Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Serbia steps up hunt for notorious war crimes fugitive

AP , BELGRADE

Serbia-Montenegro's defense minister has pledged he will resign unless war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic is captured soon.

Defense Minister General Zoran Stankovic, in an interview on Friday, also reiterated his call on the wartime Bosnian Serb army commander to surrender, or take his own life.

"I consider that a man should sometimes pass a judgment on himself if he is guilty of certain crimes," Stankovic said.

Stankovic said that he would step down if Mladic and five other Serb fugitives sought by the UN tribunal are not located soon. He said he would resign "within a reasonable timeframe."

"Until recently, no one has seriously worked on" capturing Mladic, Stankovic said.

"Now, a serious search is under way" because the country faces a "very critical situation" if he is not extradited to The Hague tribunal, he said.

Stankovic said that Serbia's military secret service has recently identified over 50 people who have helped Mladic evade justice for over 10 years.

Some of them "gave us a number of important data that should help" find Mladic and the other fugitives, Stankovic said.

He said that his message to Mladic is: "Do you think that you are more important than this country and its people? Don't you understand that you are dragging this nation into poverty and isolation? You are devaluing yourself and the army you commanded."

He said that Mladic should come out from hiding, calling it "beneath human dignity."

Stankovic, who was named the defense minister in October last year, was a former longtime friend of Mladic, a retired Bosnian Serb army general who is sought on genocide charges by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

Mladic was indicted in 1995 for his troops' massacre of 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica -- Europe's worst carnage since World War II -- and for the 1992-95 wartime siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

Serbia, struggling to establish closer ties with the EU and NATO, faces immense pressure from the US and the EU to capture Mladic or risk renewed international isolation.

Stankovic said that he had not seen Mladic since 1999 and that the military and police have now intensified the search for the fugitive general who, the UN war crimes prosecutors claim, is hiding in Serbia under the protection of militiary hard-liners.

Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said on Friday that Belgrade has until the end of this month to extradite Mladic. He did not provide details on who set that deadline.

"This is the condition of all conditions for us, if we want to join Europe," Draskovic said.

Stankovic said that such statements by Serbian officials "illustrate a certain wish."

But he also said that he hopes "the latest measures" to locate Mladic "will deliver results."

"When? I don't know, but I expect it soon," Stankovic said.

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