Demands from The Hague for the handover of four generals accused of war crimes in Kosovo piled pressure on Serbia's shaky coalition on Tuesday to deliver genocide suspect Ratko Mladic or face consequences.
Reformist coalition leaders reacted with alarm to the UN tribunal's public disclosure on Monday of indictments against the four ex-army and police generals, two days before they face a dangerous no-confidence motion in parliament.
But late on Tuesday, Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said he thought those indictments might be reviewed, saying he believed they violated the tribunal's principle that responsibility had to be individual, not simply deduced from the chain of command.
"I expect the indictments to be withdrawn, re-examined and maybe sent back in some other form," Zivkovic told Reuters.
Independent analysts said the latest indictments seemed to be arm-twisting meant to force Belgrade to cough up the Bosnian Serb army commander Mladic, a top fugitive whose years on the run are an embarrassment to backers of the UN tribunal.
"This pressure is supposed to lead to Mladic. Other moves can be expected if Mladic is not apprehended, the list could be longer," said Serbian military analyst Sasa Radic.
"This definitely adds pressure on Serbian government to deal with Mladic," added Daniel Sunter, of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "It will put the government in a very difficult situation."
The charges made public on Monday allege war crimes by former armed forces chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic, former corps commander Vladimir Lazarevic, former police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic and the current head of Serbia's public security, Sreten Lukic.
The indictment says they "planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided" crimes including executions and the deportation of some 800,000 Albanians.
Along with Radovan Karadzic, who led a breakaway Serb republic in Bosnia's brutal 1992-95 war, Mladic is wanted for the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.
Neither the tribunal nor the US, which exercises the greatest leverage over Serbia, believes Belgrade's repeated protests that Mladic is not even in the country. The general, another hero figure to some, went underground in 2000.
Complying with The Hague under pain of a US economic aid cutoff, impoverished Serbia has handed over former strongman Slobodan Milosevic, ex-president Milan Milutinovic and other leading wartime figures, including seven this year alone.
Mladic is mentioned by name for the first time in one draft of a US Senate bill that could set Belgrade a March 31, 2004 ultimatum for his handover.
Zivkovic said on Monday he thought he had a "gentleman's agreement" with Washington and Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte that it was Mladic who now mattered most and that other cases could be tried in Serbia.
But Hague officials said Serbia had to honor its obligation to hand over the four men, one of whom is said to be in Russia.
"When the tension dies down and the dust settles, they will see they have no option but to proceed and apprehend these men," deputy prosecutor Graham Blewitt told reporters.
Both Hague and US officials denied any deal had been done.
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