Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Regional Report: Serbia: New Extraditions Expected

Two more Serbian indictees set to be handed over to The Hague – but key suspect remains at large.
By Milanka Saponja-Hadzic

Serbia is poised to send two former army officers to The Hague war crimes court in a bid to show it remains keen on cooperating following the killing of prime minister Zoran Djindjic.


But it has refused to promise it will hand over the most wanted man of all – Ratko Mladic – claiming he has disappeared.


Belgrade sources told IWPR that the transfer to The Hague of former army officers Veselin Sljivancanin and Milan Radic is imminent.


Both men are accused of massacring Croat civilians outside the town of Vukovar in 1991.


The third member of the so-called Vukovar trio, Mile Mrksic, voluntarily surrendered to The Hague following the adoption of a law on Yugoslavia’s cooperation with tribunal in April 2002.


The arrival of Sljivancanin and Radic in The Hague will be welcomed by prosecutors and tribunal officials - but they are likely to be furious at Belgrade’s claim that Mladic has disappeared.


Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that he cannot arrest Mladic because the former Bosnian Serb army commander has vanished.


Until recently, Mladic reportedly lived in a villa as a guest of hard-core nationalist elements in the army.


Paddy Ashdown, the international High Representative in Bosnia, claims the general is still in Belgrade, but the authorities say he has left Serbia.


The handover of the two army officers indicted by the war crimes court was being considered by Djindjic in the weeks before his death.


And the fact that this extradition will go ahead will be seen as evidence that the cooperation with The Hague that he began will continue.


Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has demanded Mladic be handed over by June 15 – the deadline set by the US before Djindjic’s assassination.


Some western diplomats would like the international community to relax its pressure on Belgrade, worried that this may destabilise Serbia.


But US and European Union officials appear to be following Del Ponte’s hard line, and may demand that Mladic is handed over on time – or else aid will be slashed.


A government source told IWPR that the arrest of Mladic is postponed “for a while”. The authorities at the moment seem more concerned with rounding up those suspected of involvement in Djindjic’s assassination.


Meanwhile, the chief of the military intelligence Aca Tomic - who many suspected of protecting Mladic, Sljivancanin and Radic - has been dismissed.


Tomic’s sacking has “weakened but not eliminated” the protection of indictees, because it is also provided by lower army ranks, said the IWPR source.


But the president of Serbia-Montenegro Svetozar Marovic emphasised that “there can be no disputes in the country” over cooperation with the tribunal “because the new authorities have reached a consensus on the matter”.


Ivan Vejvoda, adviser to the new Serbian prime minister Zoran Zivkovic, told IWPR, ”The system of governing the state has been simplified. There are no longer any power-centres sending different signs to the military and police structures concerning The Hague.”


Those still sceptical of Belgrade’s willingness to deal with its past may be encouraged by such statements and Serbia’s aggressive hunt for Djindjic’s killers.


There have been waves of arrests of criminals linked to the country’s powerful mafia groups suspected of involvement in the assassination.


Among those arrested was the popular singer Ceca, widow of Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic – a former gangster and paramilitary commander.


She personified Serbian culture during the Balkan conflict – a combination of raw patriotism and glorification of war.


The police discovered in her house a vast quantity of weapons, gold and artworks plundered from Croatia and Bosnia.


Notwithstanding all these positive developments, the big question remains – will the international community give Serbia more time?


Del Ponte had had a warm relationship with Djindjic, and visited his grave during a trip to Belgrade last weekend.


While she understands that the country is currently facing a serious crisis that it must deal with, the signs are that she will stick to her guns and demand that Belgrade adheres to the June 15 deadline.


Milanka Saponja-Hadzic is a regular IWPR contributor.


More IWPR's Global Voices