BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ NATO troops today arrested a former Bosnian Serb Cabinet minister on war crimes charges and were taking him to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Netherlands for trial.

Radoslav Brdjanin, the most senior Bosnian Serb civilian official yet to be arrested and transferred to the tribunal, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in a statement that the detention of Brdjanin, now a lawmaker in the Bosnian Serb assembly, ``will contribute to the continued consolidation of the peace in Bosnia.''

Brdjanin served as minister of urbanization in the wartime Bosnian Serb government of Radovan Karadzic, who was also indicted for war crimes but has not been captured.

In Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, NATO issued a statement saying Brdjanin was charged with crimes against humanity for instigating the forcible removal of Muslims and Croats from the Banja Luka area, the practice that became known as ``ethnic cleansing,'' between April and December 1992.

Following his arrest by British troops in northwest Bosnia, the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo advised Americans to avoid the Banja Luka area and ``limit their exposure'' elsewhere in the Bosnian Serb region.

The NATO-led Stabilization Force, or SFOR, has a mandate in Bosnia to detain officials indicted for war crimes.

The ministry of urbanization was believed responsible for the destruction of mosques in areas from which Bosnian Muslims were purged by Serbs during the 1992-1995 war.

Brdjanin heads a small party in the Serb-ruled part of Bosnia that has two seats in the Bosnian Serb assembly.

Another party, the Serb Party of Independent Social Democrats of pro-Western Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, protested the action and said arrests ``under sealed indictments endanger'' public safety.

The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, has issued indictments for offenses allegedly committed during ethnic conflicts throughout the former Yugoslavia, including one against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Many of the indictments, however, are kept secret until an arrest is made in order to prevent the accused from fleeing.