Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The Serbian authorities launched this week another search operation aimed at getting information that could lead to the arrest of the most wanted Hague tribunal fugitive, former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic.
In the early morning hours of November 2, police searched two locations, one in Belgrade and the other near in the central town of Arandjelovac, detaining one person. Some documents have also been confiscated.
Only few days before the operation was carried out, Serbia's government increased its reward for the capture of Mladic from one to ten million euro. It also raised the reward for the second Hague fugitive, Goran Hadzic, from 250,000 to one million euro.
However, Serbian interior minister Ivica Dacic told the Belgrade media that the police operation carried out this week was not related to the increased sums.
"This operation has nothing to do with the [money]. It was carried out based on some previous security information," Dacic was reported as saying.
On November 2, heavily-armed police sealed off a tourist complex near the town of Arandjelovac and a restaurant in Belgrade, both belonging to a man police suspect of having information that could lead to the arrest of the wartime Bosnian Serb army commander, who has been evading justice since 1995, when the Hague tribunal indicted him for genocide.
According to the spokesman for Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecutor, Bruno Vekaric, the suspect has close connections with Mladic and his family.
Ever since the rewards for Mladic and Hadzic were increased, phones at the Serbian secret service are reported to have been ringing constantly.
Dacic claims that the main reason why Serbia has decided to raise the rewards is to show the international community how seriously it takes its cooperation with the Hague tribunal.
However, analysts in Serbia doubt that the increased sums being offered will lead to the fugitives’ arrest.
Military analyst Aleksandar Radic believes the government has already been doing what it can and the extra money won’t make any difference.
“We had offered money before and it did not lead to Mladic’s and Hadzic’s arrest. This is just something that is intended to show the European Union that Serbia is serious,” Radic told IWPR.
Security analyst Zoran Dragisic said this week’s operation was just a show for the media ahead of the visit of the Hague tribunal chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, scheduled for November 15.
Brammertz is coming to Belgrade to prepare his regular annual report to the United Nations Security Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal.
Brammertz recently criticised Serbia for not doing enough to apprehend the two remaining fugitives. He also asked the EU to continue pressuring the Belgrade authorities to arrest Mladic and Hadzic, if they want to be given a chance to join the EU.
The Netherlands and Belgium are insisting that two indictees must be detained before Serbia can be considered for full EU membership.
It is expected that this autumn the European Council will give its opinion on whether Serbia can become a candidate for the EU, and union leaders could decide on this as early as December.
Analysts say all this pressure resulted in the Serbian government’s decision to increase the rewards for Mladic and Hadzic.
According to Serbian media reports, the new amounts offered have attracted bounty hunters from abroad, but Dacic said earlier this week that mercenaries would not be welcome in his country.
“Serbia is not Wild West and bounty hunting is illegal in this country,” he said. He emphasised that the ten million euro reward was offered not for Mladic’s head, but for the information leading to his arrest.
In an effort to thwart the government, the nationalist Serbian People’s Movement 1389 has offered a reward of 10,000 euro for information leading to persons who provide the police with information about Mladic’s whereabouts. The movement claims the government’s attempts to arrest Mladic are pushing Serbia towards civil war.
The Serbian public are still divided on whether Mladic should be handed over to the tribunal.
A recent poll conducted by the International Republican Institute, IRI, has shown that over half the population does not agree that it’s in the country’s best interest to send him to the tribunal. Only 36 per cent approve of the move.
The same poll showed that just 15 per cent of Serbian people support the country’s full cooperation with the court, while 35 per cent said it shouldn’t do so under any circumstances.
Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR-trained reporter in Belgrade.
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