Bosnia's international governor, Paddy Ashdown, on Thursday launched a new crackdown on corrupt officials whom he has accused of deliberately failing to capture Europe's most wanted war criminals.
Ashdown, whose position of high representative of Bosnia gives him sweeping powers, said Bosnian Serb "obstructionists" were willingly sheltering those wanted by the Hague tribunal.
He said unless authorities in the Republica Srpska -- the Serb-run half of Bosnia Herzegovina -- take dramatic steps then progress for the nation as a whole would be blocked.
Yesterday he stepped up his campaign against the Serb authorities by sacking nine people, including senior security officials, and freezing bank accounts.
The move followed a similar purge in July when 60 officials -- including the Serbian Democratic party leader and speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, Dragan Kalinic, and the Bosnian Serb police chief, Zoran Djeric -- were dismissed.
Ashdown said he had evidence one of the most wanted war criminals, ex-Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, had been sheltered by old army colleagues.
He revealed that Mladic, indicted for genocide including the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica, had been seen as recently as June 28 at the huge Han-Pijesak military compound, only an hour from Sarajevo.
He said Mladic, who has been on the run since 1997, had also been on the Bosnian Serb army's payroll until recently.
Another Hague indictee, Gojko Jankovic, has been seen freely walking around another Serb-run town feeling sufficiently relaxed to appear at a public funeral, he said.
In a press interview at his headquarters in Sarajevo, part of an EU-sponsored trip to Bosnia, Ashdown said: "There have been 20 war criminals arrested on the territory of Republica Srpska -- all of them by NATO.
"No one can tell me [Republica Srpska's] failure to capture a single war criminal in nine years is anything other than a deep laid intention not to capture them and by having institutions which are corrupted in the process," he said.
"There are some signs that there is a change of attitude. But no one is going to be satisfied by words. These guys have got to be captured and taken to The Hague and until they are there is an absolute block on this country moving forward -- either to NATO or the EU," he said.
"If the question is: `Is the whole of the country being held to ransom by the failure of the RS?' The answer is yes," Ashdown said.
He said only by being accepted into the NATO fold and moving towards EU membership could Bosnia's future be guaranteed.
Meanwhile, the US on Thursday signaled a stepped-up and concerted drive to isolate Bosnian war crimes suspects.
The US Treasury announced it had frozen the US-based assets of the Serb Democratic Party, two companies and suspects, while the State Department reiterated the need for a "special effort" to strip the Bosnian fugitives of their support.
"Today is a further example of how we can closely work together and try to obtain a goal that we are all intent on reaching," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of the multi-pronged drive to corner Karadzic, Mladic and other wanted Bosnians.
Boucher said that US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visited Bosnia in July, had called for a "special effort to identify the location of the fugitives from the court in The Hague and to do everything we could" to capture them.