AUSTRALIA: Vasiljkovic has survived years of allegations of rape, torture and murder

Alleged Balkans war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic is back behind bars and facing extradition from Australia after a six-week international manhunt.

Vasiljkovic, known in Croatia as "Captain Dragan" and also as Daniel Snedden, was taken into custody at an undisclosed location in New South Wales late on Wednesday by federal police.

He vanished during a High Court appeal in March that confirmed he was eligible for surrender to Croatia to face prosecution for war crimes allegedly committed during the time he led units of the infamous Serb Red Berets.

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Police had believed he may have fled overseas, but he was found with help from Dutch authorities.

Vasiljkovic, who has denied the allegations and contends he will die because of his political beliefs if he is returned to Croatia, will remain in prison until a final decision is made by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor.

O'Connor, using the name Snedden, said Vasiljkovic would be given the chance to make a case against extradition.

He said relevant representations would be taken into account and a decision would be made "as soon as is reasonably practicable".

Vasiljkovic has survived years of allegations of rape, torture and murder that surfaced after the

Australian

newspaper discovered him living in Perth in 2005.

He fought appeals and launched a defamation case against the claims made by the newspaper, but was ultimately defeated when a Supreme Court judge found the allegations to be true, and the High Court later confirmed moves for his extradition.

Born in 1954 in Belgrade, then capital of the former Yugoslavia, Vasiljkovic migrated with his family to Australia in 1967, living under the name of Snedden and enlisting in the Army Reserve for four years.

He lived a chequered life: convicted of operating a Melbourne brothel, reportedly becoming a weapons instructor in Africa and South America, and in 1990 returning to Belgrade as the Balkans began to disintegrate into war.

After Croatia declared its independence Vasiljkovic joined Serbian paramilitary forces and helped establish the Red Berets, a volunteer unit that became infamous for its role in the development of "ethnic cleansing".

Time

magazine said the Red Berets became the most feared paramilitary unit of the Balkan wars.

Known widely as "Captain Dragan", Vasiljkovic became a hero to Croatian Serbs, establishing a fund to help war victims and being lauded in song.

Vasiljkovic himself told his unsuccessful defamation hearing against the

Australian:

"I think I became to my enemy a legend and to every Serb, or about 90 per cent of them, a hero."

But evidence given to Justice Megan Latham during last year's Supreme Court hearing alleged brutality and murder by "Captain Dragan" during the occupation of the area around Knin Fortress, a regional Croatian Serb stronghold.

Former Croat policeman Velibor Bracic said he had been regularly beaten by guards under Vasiljkovic's command, including an incident when "Captain Dragan" had kicked him in the head to demonstrate "how it's done". Bracic also alleged that prisoners were beaten "day and night" and on one occasion had been forced to kiss a bear's behind.

A woman whose name was withheld said she had been raped repeatedly by Vasiljkovic, and a

London Times

reporter, Anne McElvoy, testified that in an interview he had told her: "When the Croatian side uses hospitals or police stations and the villages as fortified positions, I'm sorry, I just have to massacre them."

Justice Latham found the allegations to be "substantially true".

Vasiljkovic told reporters after the case that the hearing had been a "sham" battle against a Goliath news organisation, and appealed against the decision.

"It was David and Goliath, only David was handcuffed too," he was quoted by the

Australian

as saying. "How could I get a fair trial with all these forces working against me?"