Serbia's president warned yesterday that the EU's decision to suspend pre-membership talks with Belgrade over its failure to capture a top war crimes fugitive would lead to "very bad consequences" for the troubled Balkan country.
President Boris Tadic said in a statement that the Serbian government's "failed promises" to hand Mladic to the UN court in The Hague, Netherlands, by last Monday would shatter Serbia's credibility abroad and weaken its efforts to prevent the secession of Kosovo and Montenegro.
"The government's failure to arrest General Mladic, despite given promises, jeopardizes Serbia's credibility in international relations," Tadic said. "All democratic political forces must now join their efforts to defend Serbia and its European orientation."
The EU announced on Wednesday that it was suspending talks with Serbia, saying the negotiations could be restarted as soon as Mladic is handed over to The Hague court.
"The government of Serbia must cooperate with The Hague tribunal to the end and thus prevent very bad consequences for the country," Tadic said.
The suspension deals a severe blow to Serbia's efforts introduce pro-Western reforms and integrate with the rest of Europe, following years of wars and isolation under late former president Slobodan Milosevic.
Mladic is sought by the Hague court for allegedly orchestrating the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica He is believed to be hiding under protection from Milosevic loyalists in the Serbian police and the military.
Serbia's government was expected to meet later yesterday. The suspension of EU talks led to the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on Wednesday that his government had done all it could to find Mladic. Urging Mladic to surrender, Kostunica said the fugitive general was now "hiding all alone" after a crackdown on his security network.
Kostunica's deputy, Labus, who represented the government at the EU talks, also resigned, suggesting Serbia's security services have not done enough to arrest Mladic. Labus said the government had "betrayed the most important interest of the country and citizens of Serbia."
In The Hague, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, called Serbia's handling of the case "unprofessional" and said the ex-Bosnian Serb army commander is hiding in the Belgrade region, changing apartments daily.
"Serbia must show that nobody is above the law and that anybody indicted for serious crimes will face justice," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels.