Harwood hideout for war criminal

THE tiny hamlet of Harwood was the chosen hideout this week for one of Australia’s most wanted men – accused Balkans war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic.

The former Serbian paramilitary commander was arrested by Australian Federal Police while working on a yacht at the Harwood Slipway on Wednesday afternoon after 43 days on the run.

Sources at the Harwood Slipway said more than a dozen police officers surrounded the 30-foot yacht Salem II, which was on drydock at the slipway, and Vasiljkovic was arrested without incident.

Accused of ordering the abuse, interrogation and death of Croatian prisoners during the 1990s Balkan conflict, Vasiljkovic was transported in a Corrective Services truck to Coffs Harbour where Federal officers yesterday presented an arrest warrant to Coffs Harbour Local Court.

Vasiljkovic was set to appear before a magistrate over an extradition order to face a War Crimes Tribunal, but due to the significance of the case it was referred straight to the Sydney Crime’s Command.

NSW Police said he would be taken to Grafton awaiting transportation to Sydney’s Silverwater Jail.

A spokesman for the Harwood Slipway said Vasiljkovic and a “friend” had brought Salem II to the slipway for repair a few days before the arrest.

“He (Vasiljkovic) came here with his friend and they said they were going to work on it so they could get it back in the water quickly,” he said.

The owner of the boat left the slipway shortly after setting it up on the drydock, he said, leaving Vasiljkovic to work and sleep on the raised yacht.

Another source said the boat had been purchased from Iluka about three weeks ago and had been sailed around the Lower Clarence ever since.

It is understood the older vessel had been dry-docked for general maintenance and sandblasting.

The slipway spokesman said the vessel, while small, would have been seaworthy once mainten- ance had been completed.

“They said they were going to go back to Coffs Harbour, but where they were headed? ... You can speculate as good as me.”

Vasiljkovic has lived in Australia since the Balkans War under the alias of Daniel Snedden.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said Vasiljkovic would have the chance to make representations why he shouldn’t be surrendered to Croatia.

Serbian leaders in Australia yesterday continued to oppose his extradition.

“In the eyes of many Serbs he is a man of honour,” Iljia Glisic said. “This will be nothing more than a show trial that puts his life in danger, and not with some justification.”

Vasiljkovic’s lawyers have also contested the extradition order, arguing that he would not get a fair hearing in Croatia.

Captain Dragan, as he is also known, has been hunted by police and Interpol since March 30. He attended the first day of his High Court extradition hearing but fled the next day.

The police investigation into his whereabouts focused on a Middle Boambee property – the last known residence of the 55-year-old.

Last week in a Sydney court it was said he may have been camping out in a forest in NSW.

Since that time, the government says Dutch authorities have provided information which led to his arrest.

A high-ranking Serbian commander, he testified in the 2003 trial of Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic. It is believed he served as the commander of paramilitary unit, Krajina Serbs, fighting against Croatia from 1991 to 1995.

Four years ago he was arrested living in Perth and working as a golf instructor.

He was arrested and held in prison without charge prior to the extradition proceedings.

During this time he moved to the Boambee property, living with a friend before running from a Federal arrest warrant.

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