Goran Hadzic, the last war crimes fugitive from the Yugoslav wars, has been arrested, according to Serb officials, leading to the country fulfilling its main remaining obligation to the United Nations tribunal and clearing its most important political obstacle to European Union membership.

Goran Hadzic was the president of the Serb Krajina splinter republic during the 1991-1995 conflict in Croatia, and is accused of murder and persecution related to Serbian-led plans to drive out Croats and other non-Serbs.

In 2004, he was charged by the tribunal in The Hague with 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and accused of leading the "ethnic cleansing" of Krajina, driving out Croats and other non-Serbs and being responsible for "persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer" as well as "wanton destruction ... or devastation".

A total of 10,000 people died in the fighting in Croatia, with a further 100,000 killed in Bosnia and an estimated 10,000 in Kosovo.

Mr Hadzic was arrested on Wednesday at 8.24am local time in Krusedol, a village in the Fruska Gora hills north of Belgrade, while apparently waiting to meet a contact, Serbian authorities said.

The 52-year-old Mr Hadzic reportedly used a fake identity card to move around, but immediately confirmed his true identity to the police, said B92, a Belgrade broadcaster.

He had fled from his house in Novi Sad, with suitcase in hand in July 1994, apparently alerted from within the security services when the UN tribunal sent the indictment against him to Belgrade. His family, despite pressure from investigators, always denied being in contact with him or knowing of his whereabouts "I feel awful," said his son, Srecko Hadzic. "But the most important thing is that he's alive.

Mr Hadzic was first taken to the headquarters of the Security Information Agency (BIA), and by 12.30pm local time was transferred from there to Belgrade's war crimes court for pre-extradition procedures, officials said. His flight to The Hague, where Mr Karadzic is on trial and Mr Mladic awaits a trial date, can be expected early next week.

As trials progress, Belgrade must keep allowing access to evidence. Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor, said: "In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to ask Serbia - and all states of the former Yugoslavia - to support our cases by providing access to archives documents and witnesses."

Hazdic arrest came less than two months after that of Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army commander accused of genocide.

Serbia's president, Boris Tadic, called a press conference at which he formally announced the arrest, made two months after the arrest of the Bosnian Serb, Ratko Mladic, who is in the custody of The Hague war crimes tribunal.

"We are not doing this for the European Union, we are doing this because of our moral obligation," he said at the snap press conference. "We didn't do this because of pressure from Brussels, which was unnecessary."

With both Mladic and Hadzic arrested, the largest ex-Yugoslav state can nowrealistically seek a firm date soon for opening accession talks of its European membership, government officials said.

The country of some 8m people aims for membership in the E.U as its main foreign policy goal. EU and Nato leaders congratulated Serbia on meeting its obligations.

Mr Tadic said the authorities had not known where Mr Hadzic was hiding. But after Mr Mladic's arrest, security resources were directed at finding Mr Hadzic.

Days earlier, Rasim Ljajic, Serbia's chief co-ordinator with the tribunal in The Hague, had promised the final arrest "very soon", because police resources could now be concentrated on finding Mr Hadzic.