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Renewed Mladic Arrest Hopes
A combination of events in Belgrade and The Hague appear to have brought the surrender of the tribunal’s most wanted fugitive – former commander of the Bosnian Serb army Ratko Mladic – one step closer.
Observers in Belgrade point to the provisional release of Serbian police general, Sreten Lukic as a sign of the tribunal’s increasing trust in the authorities in Serbia. He was indicted in The Hague for war crimes in Kosovo and gave himself up as part of a wave of voluntary surrenders at the beginning of this year.
At the same time, there has been growing speculation about the impact of the appointment of Zoran Stankovic - a man believed to have had a close connection to Mladic - as the new defence minister on the former Bosnian Serb general.
Observers believe that Lukic’s release and Stankovic’s appointment could each be elements in helping the authorities in Belgrade to transfer Mladic to The Hague in the next few months.
Over the past weeks, Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica has reiterated that resolving the issue of cooperation with The Hague is one of the Belgrade authorities’ top priorities.
Without the transfer of Mladic, believed to be hiding in Serbia, and full cooperation with the tribunal, Belgrade will not be able to achieve the level of international integration it is seeking.
On October 3, the EU Council of Ministers approved the start of talks with Belgrade to negotiate a Stabilisation and Association Agreement. However, the ministers warned that they expect Belgrade successfully to complete its cooperation with the tribunal, referring to the arrest of Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president.
The inclusion of Serbia and Montenegro in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme now also seems dependent on Mladic’s arrest. It is vital that Serbia and Montenegro joins the programme if Belgrade is to reform its armed forces and join the same integrated military structures as their Balkan neighbours.
Over the past months, Vojislav Kostunica’s government managed to convince several tribunal fugitives to surrender voluntarily.
In a recent visit to Belgrade, Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte told the media that she was "very pleased with the co-operation we receive from Belgrade, particularly in the transfer of 16 fugitives since October last year". But her spokesperson told IWPR that such cooperation has come after a period of complete negation, “Before those 16 were transferred there was almost no cooperation.”
In the case of Mladic, the concept of voluntary surrender has so far failed to produce concrete results.
Del Ponte has been quoted widely as saying that there is a new deadline of December 14 for Mladic’s handover, the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Peace accords. However, it is not clear whether Belgrade has accepted this deadline.
Serbian government representatives still claim they do not know whether Mladic is in the country. Official information indicates that he was under the protection of the military security forces until 2002, after which time he vanished. It is believed, however, that he still enjoys the protection of certain conservative military circles in Serbia.
A source close to the Serbian authorities told IWPR that an additional problem with Mladic is his alleged mental instability, which makes it more difficult to exert any kind of pressure on him. For this reason, this source adds, the authorities are seeking all possible ways to assist him in following in the footsteps of other Hague indictees who voluntarily surrendered.
The release of General Lukic sends a message that voluntary surrender is respected and reaps benefits for the indictees themselves.
But the appointment of Stankovic, the most serious candidate proposed by the Serbian government to the defence portfolio, could influence Mladic on a more personal level.
Stankovic, the former head of the elite military clinic in Serbia and Montenegro, the Military Medical Academy, performed the autopsy on Mladic’s daughter who committed suicide in Serbia in 1999. This created a bond between Mladic and the military doctor.
Stankovic told the Belgrade-based radio B92 that he was in favour of taking all necessary steps towards cooperation with the tribunal but that no miracles should be expected of him personally.
"I am not that powerful. If I can get Mladic to surrender or simply come in contact with him after the maybe ten times I've run into him in my life, then it would seem that I have extremely great abilities," said Stankovic.
The editor of the Belgrade biweekly Defence & Security, Aleksander Radic, believes the provisional release of Lukic and the appointment of Stankovic could aid Mladic’s voluntary surrender.
“These are only elements that can help, but they themselves will not resolve this issue,” he said.
“This is not something Stankovic can resolve on his own. He’s not the only one who once knew Mladic.
“All the key Serbian officials must participate in the efforts – the Serbian prime minister, the minister of the police and the director of the Security Information Agency.”
Political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic said although there appears to be a considerable warming of relations between Belgrade and the tribunal, the latest events concerning Lukic and Stankovic may not be enough to resolve the Mladic issue. However, he said if the authorities were to opt for an arrest once establishing that Mladic is in Serbia, it would be less politically risky than a few months ago.
“A possible arrest is fraught with some political risk, but the level of this risk is much lower now,” said Vukadinovic.
Daniel Sunter is an IWPR contributor.
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