ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ More than 5,700 alleged criminals were arrested over nine weeks in a joint federal, state and local sweep billed Thursday as the largest and most successful fugitive manhunt in law enforcement history.

''These were the worst folks that we could find nationally that needed to be arrested,'' U.S. Marshals Service Director Henry E. Hudson said at a news conference.

''In law enforcement, we call them 'the cream of the crud,''' said Stephen E. Higgins, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

The sweep, dubbed Operation Trident, involved the Marshals Service, the BATF and the Drug Enforcement Administration, along with state and local authorities.

''These joint efforts defy the conventional wisdom that state, local and federal authorities cannot cooperate,'' said Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, who also was at the news conference.

Hudson called Operation Trident ''the most successful fugitive operation in this nation's history,'' noting that the Marshals Service has directed 17 such sweeps in the last 12 years.

A total of 5,788 alleged criminals were apprehended during Operation Trident, Hudson said. More than 2,200 of them had at least six prior arrests.

''Eighty-seven percent of the arrestees were held without bail,'' he said. ''The average person we arrested had been at large for at least seven months.''

Among the most notorious fugitives netted in the sweep:

- Lemuel Amond Bond, arrested at a hotel in Honduras last month. Bond, 37, was allegedly unloading an 800-pound cocaine shipment from a small plane from Colombia when he escaped an undercover DEA operation outside of Houston on Oct. 21, 1990.

- Anthony L. Hayes, 31, captured at a New Orleans hotel in June after escaping from jail in Mississippi with self-described serial killer Donald Leroy Evans and another prisoner.

- Ernesto and Jose Carlos Valladares, two Cuban-American brothers, arrested in Medellin, Colombia, on drug-trafficking charges.

Of those arrested, 963 were federal fugitives and 4,825 were wanted on state charges, Hudson said. Some 229 of those arrested had been charged with or previously convicted of homicide, Hudson said.

Also, 838 were wanted for firearms violations, 398 for sex crimes, 1,107 for violent crimes against individuals and 1,744 for narcotics violations, Hudson said.

''The oldest arrestee was 80 years old, wanted for attempted murder in Montgomery, Alabama,'' he said. ''And the youngest was 13, wanted in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for armed robbery, aggravated assault, grand auto theft, armed robbery and burglary.

During the operation, $1.05 million in cash and property were seized, Hudson said. Total cost of Operation Trident was $1.5 million, ''which means we almost broke even,'' Hudson said.

The operation was paid for by a special congressional appropriation. Hudson said it was so successful that Operation Trident task forces will continue to work in 23 major U.S. cities, probably for the rest of the year.