Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Serbia misses EU deadline to arrest Mladic

STILL AT LARGE Serbia failed to turn the war crimes suspect over to an international court, but a German newspaper reported that Belgrade would give him up on May 10


The EU's ultimatum to Serbia to arrest key crimes suspect Ratko Mladic expired yesterday with the former Bosnian Serb wartime military commander still at large.

The EU had said it would suspend talks on potential membership for Serbia-Montenegro -- due to resume on May 11 -- if Mladic was not handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by Sunday.

The EU's enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, confirmed the threat on Friday, though he said the handover must take place within "the next few days," rather than insisting on Sunday's deadline.

Rehn said he would discuss the situation on Wednesday with the ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte.

As Sunday's deadline approached, the Serbian government insisted that it was trying to arrest Mladic, who has been on the run for more than 10 years.

Del Ponte has long maintained that he is within reach of the authorities. Last Tuesday, the ICTY said it had not received "any signs or indications" that an arrest was imminent.

In what might be seen as an attempt to push back the deadline, Serbia-Montenegro's Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic, who is in charge of cooperation with the ICTY, said on Sunday that Serbia had information on 130 people who had helped hide Mladic over the years.

However, most of those people were in the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the minister told the Blic newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

Ljajic refused to give any further information on Mladic's supposed accomplices, because that might jeopardize efforts to capture the fugitive.

"We have more information than before ... we have made progress but the European Union will only appreciate the result, not our efforts," the minister said.

Mladic has been wanted since 1995 for genocide and war crimes committed during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

The genocide charge relates to the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, considered the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.

Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic declared that the arrest of Mladic, was now a "technical" matter.

Capital Investments Minister Velimir Ilic appealed in the newspaper Politika for the fugitive to give himself up, though he also said he felt Belgrade was under "suffocating pressure."

An optimistic note came from Berlin, where the special coordinator of the stability pact for the Balkans, Erhard Busek, said Mladic could be handed over soon.

"The latest information I have is that Belgrade is now planning to give him up on May 10," Busek told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"The more delays there are, the less credible Belgrade gets," Busek said, calling on the European authorities to act more firmly.

Serbian ministers' latest announcements of progress in tracking Mladic down are unlikely to convince the EU, which remains sceptical after the recent arrests of five of the suspect's aides.

But Belgrade is in a difficult situation. A postponement of talks with the EU could hardly come at a worse time. The country is facing independence claims both from Kosovo Albanians and from its sister republic Montenegro, which is to hold a referendum on May 21 to decide whether to secede from its union with Serbia.

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