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Serbia: All Eyes on Brammertz

Will the tribunal’s chief prosecutor bolster Serbia’s bid for further European integration?
By Aleksandar Roknić

Serbia will learn next month whether it has done enough to be seen as fully cooperating with the Hague tribunal, key to unlocking its door to Europe.

Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz visited Belgrade this week to assess its progress on cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia ICTY – an important step in its being accepted as a potential member of the EU.

Serbia received a positive report from Brammertz on the recent arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was captured in Belgrade in July after 13 years on the run. Earlier this year, Serbian authorities handed over another war crimes suspect, former police chief from Banja Luka, Stojan Zupljanin.

But two suspects – former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and ex-Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic – remain at large, and until they are captured, Serbia should probably not get its hopes up.

“Brammertz’s visit to Belgrade will not bring any significant changes for Serbia, because Mladic hasn’t been arrested yet. We know this won’t happen today, or tomorrow, or a day after tomorrow,” Rasim Ljajic, president of the National Council for Cooperation with the Tribunal, told Serbian media this week.

Serbia must arrest Mladic, who controlled the Bosnian Serb army during the Srebrenica genocide, before a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA - the first step towards full EU membership for Serbia - can be implemented.

“Without Mladic in the dock, The Netherlands will not unblock the SAA. The Dutch officials reiterated that only few days ago… The Chief Prosecutor will describe what he saw and heard – a significant progress in cooperation, full political will and serious police actions. But he will note that Serbia hasn’t complied fully, because Ratko Mladic is still at large,” said Ljajic.

Mladic is indicted for war crimes committed during the war in Bosnia in 1992-1995, including in Srebrenica in July 1995, when some 8,000 Bosniaks were killed by the Bosnian Serb forces.

Hadzic has been indicted for war crimes committed against hundreds of non-Serbs from August 1991 to June 1992.

Brammertz will present his report to the United Nations Security Council on December 12. But it alone will not be enough for Serbia to continue the process of the European integration.

The Netherlands – backed by Belgium – has blocked the implementation of the SAA and they insist that Mladic and Hadzic have to be arrested before Serbia is given a green light. Their firm line is unusual in the EU, however, since most other members want to unblock the agreement as a gesture of good will towards Serbia, despite the two fugitives being still at large.

Serbia’s War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic was optimistic the other states’ viewpoint would prevail.

“I think that his report will be good, balanced and generally positive. Nobody can say after the transfer of Karadzic and Zupljanin to The Hague that we do not cooperate,” he told IWPR.

Just a few days before Brammertz’s visit to Belgrade, Serbian police searched the homes and factory of two businessmen in Valjevo because they allegedly have some commercial ties with Mladic’s son.

Serbian media speculated that the businessmen could have been helping Mladic to hide, but the raid did not result in any arrests. This led some observers to think that the whole operation was carried out only to impress Brammertz.

At this week’s meeting with the Serbian Action Team for the arrest of the remaining fugitives, Brammertz was informed about Belgrade’s continuing efforts to cut financial support to the two remaining fugitives.

Olga Kavran, spokeswoman for the tribunal’s Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, did not want to comment on whether at this meeting Brammertz received any assurances that Mladic would be arrested soon and stressed that "everything that the chief prosecutor has heard will be mentioned in the report” due to be finished by the end of November.

Despite the enormous pressure on Serbia to apprehend the remaining two fugitives, they remain at large. Many observers wonder why.

A political analyst from Serbia, Vladimir Todoric, believes that despite its determination to fully cooperate with the Hague tribunal, the Serbian government still had its reasons to delay Mladic’s arrest.

“On the one hand, his arrest could incriminate Serbia because of its army’s involvement in the military campaign in Bosnia, which could be proved at his trial. On the other hand, the attempt to catch him could lead to bloodshed and a negative reaction from the Serbian public,” he said.

However, recent polls show that the Serbian public is less and less concerned about Mladic’s fate. According to a survey conducted by Belgrade agency Strategic Marketing, more than 45 per cent of citizens believe their country has to fully cooperate with the tribunal, including transferring Mladic to The Hague.

Strategic Marketing’s research director Svetlana Logar said it was unlikely that Mladic’s arrest would cause a rift in Serbia’s society.

“Judging by everything we’ve learned from the polls we conducted, I don’t think people in Serbia would react to Mladic’s arrest more strongly than they did when Karadzic was apprehended,” she said.

Aleksandar Roknic and Branka Mihajlovic are IWPR reporters.

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