Mladic Holed Up in Montenegro

Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and his federal military chiefs advised Hague indictee Ratko Mladic to go into hiding.

Mladic Holed Up in Montenegro

Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and his federal military chiefs advised Hague indictee Ratko Mladic to go into hiding.

Wednesday, 10 April, 2002

One of ex-Yugoslavia's most wanted men, the former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, has fled from Serbia to Montenegro, allegedly with the complicity of Yugoslavia's federal authorities.

Sources in the Serbian police and at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague say Mladic, wanted for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica among other crimes, has been hiding in villages above Niksic in northern Montenegro for over 10 days.

For the last few years, Mladic has been living in Belgrade openly, but was advised by federal president Vojislav Kostunica and his supporters to go into hiding in February after The Hague prosecutor called on Belgrade to arrest him, according to Serbian government sources.

At the time, the Yugoslav authorities announced that they would withdraw Mladic's official protection. The Bosnian Serb general's official security guards were withdrawn and he was forbidden from entering military premises.

But instead of then trying to arrest him, Kostunica and his loyalists in the Yugolav army warned Mladic to leave Belgrade. He took their advice, spending one month in the central Serbian town of Valjevo and then, when things got to hot, he left for Montenegro.

The reported relocation comes at a tense time for Serbia. The United States has made much-needed financial aid of 115 million dollars dependent on Belgrade's total cooperation with the tribunal, especially in the handing over of suspects.

Earlier this week, the US secretary of state Colin Powell extended the March 31 deadline for demonstrative cooperation, but only by a few days. The possibility still looms of a return to the international isolation that Serbia experienced under its former leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

Mladic ranks just below the former Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, on the tribunal's most wanted list. He is accused of genocide, of waging a sniper campaign against civilians in Sarajevo, and of taking UN peace corps members as hostages.

He gained particular world notoriety in 1995 when forces under his control killed over 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia.

The surrender of indicted citizens to The Hague is a contentious issue in Serbia. While Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic publicly supports the process in exchange for western financial aid, President Kostunica has proved obstructive.

Djindjic supporters who oversaw Milosevic's controversial transfer to the war crimes tribunal claim Kostunica has no intention of extraditing Mladic, as it would damage his "patriotic" credentials.

Sources in The Hague believe Kostunica and the federal chief-of-staff, Nebojsa Pavkovic, quietly advised Mladic a month ago to leave Belgrade - where he was regularly spotted.

There are claims that the Yugoslav military does not want Mladic in The Hague in case his appearance substantiates claims that it was also involved in war crimes, supplying weapons, funds and soldiers to the Bosnian Serb army.

Belgrade military analyst Aleksandar Radic says Mladic's very public presence in Belgrade before February and his subsequent ability to find shelter would have been impossible without direct military assistance. "He is still protected by special units under the command of security department," he said. It is claimed that at one point the army even hid Mladic in the Topcider army barracks in Belgrade.

A Yugoslav army spokesman, Colonel Svetozar Radisic, refused to comment on the accusations as did Kostunica's adviser Rade Bulatovic. Dusan Prorokovic, a high-ranking official in Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS, said that he did not believe the army and Kostunica were involved in Mladic's disappearance. " I don't know whether that is true, but I find it hard to believe," he said.

After the signing of Dayton peace deal on Bosnia in December 1995, Mladic lived in the Belgrade suburb of Kosutnjak. Before reportedly turning up in Montenegro, he was hiding in Bobovo, a village near Valjevo, Serbian police sources say.

He was recently spotted at church in the Valjevo area and lunching at a hotel in the town where he was attending a former associates's daughter's wedding. Such is the interest in his capture that the US has posted a 5 million dollar reward for information leading to his arrest.

Ivan Nikolic is a journalist with the Belgrade daily Danas.

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