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

Serbia Enlists Help in Mladic Hunt

Serbian officials say they hope support from UK and US experts will help police find war crimes fugitives.
By Aleksandar Roknić

Serbia, desperate to convince the world it is serious about arresting war crimes suspects, has drafted in British and American experts to help its police force in the hunt for four remaining fugitives.

Serbian interior minister Dragan Jocic told parliament this week that for the first time foreign police officials were helping in the hunt for the indictees.

"Serbia wants to send a message that criticism leveled at this country is not justified and that Serbia wants to cooperate and arrest the remaining fugitives,” he said.

This was one of several measures announced this week as chief war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte visited Belgrade to check on progress in the hunt for the fugitives.

She is due to report on Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal to European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn in the next few weeks.

Del Ponte’s report will be key to determining progress on Serbia’s Europe integration. Rehn has said that it will help decide whether Belgrade can sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement, SAA - a potential first step towards membership of the EU.

Serbia’s failure to surrender former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic - who is thought to be hiding in Belgrade with the assistance of a network of military supporters - has long been a major obstacle to negotiations on Europe.

While Serbia has handed over 30 suspects to the Hague tribunal, four remain at large, including Mladic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic - both of whom were first indicted with war crimes and crimes against humanity 12 years ago, and are thought to be responsible for orchestrating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

In a report to EU ministers from October 15, Del Ponte already expressed her dissatisfaction with Serbia’s cooperation with the tribunal, which she described as “too slow and inefficient”.

However, she returned to Belgrade this week to assess the situation more fully, and the EU has postponed its decision on an SAA until after her return.

After this week’s meeting with Rasim Ljajic, the president of the committee tasked with cooperating with the Hague tribunal, Del Ponte said that she didn’t want to be “an obstacle to the Serbian European integration process”.

She added that she expected “the rest of the fugitives will be in The Hague as soon as possible”.

Ljajic said it was “too early to say anything about the character and content” of Del Ponte’s report, which will be submitted to the EU in the next few weeks.

He also said he had informed Del Ponte about new measures taken by Serbia to locate the remaining fugitives.

Serbia recently announced one million-euro bounties for the capture of Mladic and Karadzic, while information leading to the capture of Stojan Zupljanin or Goran Hadzic, who are accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia respectively, would be rewarded with 250,000 euro apiece.

Ljajic and Del Ponte agreed that Serbia has made some progress in submitting the documents the tribunal requested, having opened the defence ministry archives.

Ljajic said Belgrade was also trying to find a way to open the security services’ archives to court officials.

During her visit, the chief prosecutor also met the country’s Action Team for Hunting the Hague Fugitives, war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic and the chiefs of the civilian and military security agencies.

An IWPR source said that this meeting was “successful and held in a good spirit”.

Serbian officials explained to the prosecutor what kind of "legal and operative measures Serbia intends to take in the coming days” to catch the suspects or “identify their support networks”.

In the past few days, the Serbian army and police searched military bases in the cities of Zrenjanin, Pancevo and Bela Crkva, apparently in response to rumours that the army is shielding Mladic. No arrests resulted from the raids.

Shortly after these operations, chief of the army’s general staff General Zdravko Ponos denied that the army was protecting the suspects and said the searches had been part of regular military activities.

Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR journalist in Belgrade.