One of the most trusted allies of former President Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-Yugoslav army chief Gen. Nebojsa Pavkovic, was to surrender to the U.N. war crimes tribunal Monday.
Pavkovic, who has been charged in connection with atrocities committed in Kosovo, left for the Netherlands in a government plane accompanied by a Serbian government minister, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Before surrendering to the U.N. court in The Hague, Pavkovic will make a stopover in Rotterdam for a medical checkup, the official said. Pavkovic is reportedly seriously ill and needs medical attention while in custody.
The general's surrender to the Netherlands-based court comes as Serbia awaits European Union approval for its bid to eventually start membership talks with the bloc. The EU has said that a positive response will depend on Pavkovic's extradition.
Pavkovic, who commanded the military in Kosovo during the 1998-99 war there, was charged in 2003 for war crimes committed during the conflict between the Serb security forces and ethnic Albanian separatists.
Thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed during the war. The brutality of the Serb onslaught prompted NATO to intervene in 1999 to force Milosevic to pull his troops out of Kosovo.
Pavkovic's indictment alleges that troops under his command "murdered hundreds of Kosovo Albanian civilians ... that resulted in the forced deportation of approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians from October 1998 until June 1999."
Three more Serb army and police generals have been indicted along with Pavkovic. Two are awaiting trial while one remains at large.
Kosovo has been an international protectorate since 1999, run by the United Nations and NATO-led peacekeepers although it officially remains a province of Serbia.
After the Kosovo war ended in June 1999, Pavkovic and his associates declared victory over the Western military alliance despite their pullout from the province. Milosevic, who is also being tried at The Hague tribunal for his role in the Balkan wars, including Kosovo, promoted him to army chief of staff weeks later.
Pavkovic's surrender was announced last Friday, after weeks of negotiations with the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
Kostunica has been reluctant to arrest war crimes fugitives, fearing political backlash from nationalists, but has sought to persuade them to surrender voluntarily instead.
Since October, 13 Serb suspects have given themselves up to the tribunal, which is seeking the arrest of about a dozen more.
The top suspects still at large include former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic. Mladic is believed to be hiding in Serbia, while Karadzic is likely somewhere in Bosnia.
Government officials in Belgrade have said all suspects will be in The Hague by early fall.
The European Union and the United States have said any political and financial support for Serbia is conditional on the extradition of all suspects to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.