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Serbia May Seize Mladic

Western pressure seems to have persuaded Belgrade to extradite notorious Bosnian Serb general.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The Serbian government looks set to arrest and extradite General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the Balkan wars.


The Hague war crimes tribunal which has Mladic at the top of its wanted list, has long been pressing Serbia to arrest him at his suspected Belgrade hideout and hand him over for trial. The authorities here have repeatedly insisted they have no idea where the Bosnian Serb general is.


Now, according to IWPR sources, police appear to be moving towards arresting him in the next few days or weeks.


Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic told Reuters on Wednesday that his government would have to extradite three or four more suspects to the tribunal. "They are the people the tribunal is most interested in,


including Milosevic's closest allies, as well as Karadzic and Mladic," he said.


The Hague prosecution spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, again claimed on Monday that Mladic was still in Belgrade and that, Radovan Karadzic, wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs, is in Republika Srpska. "There are no obstacles to their arrest," Hartmann told the German Deutsche Welle.


Last week, US ambassador to Belgrade William Montgomery told Djindjic that American intelligence services had confirmed Mladic was hiding in Yugoslavia. An official close to Djindjic's cabinet told IWPR that Montgomery bluntly demanded Mladic's immediate arrest in terms that sounded like an ultimatum.


The same source said Montgomery and another state department official had visited Karadzic's 80-year-old mother Jovanka a few weeks ago to say her son's position was "hopeless" and asked her to persuade him to surrender.


The Americans want Belgrade to extradite Mladic by March 31. Unless that happens, US officials warn, Congress will not approve the 114-million -dollar aid package proposed for Yugoslavia this year. This seems to be why Djindjic, a few days after meeting Montgomery, backed away from his insistence that Mladic was not in Serbia.


Djindjic denied that Serbia was protecting Mladic, but his remarks have been interpreted as suggesting that the Yugoslav army, over which the Serbian premier has no authority, is sheltering him.


At the same time, Djindjic told the Belgrade television station Pink on Tuesday that information on a Washington "Hague offer" to Belgrade was "not all that far from the truth".


According to this account, Belgrade would arrest and extradite Mladic and Karadzic, along with two top Milosevic's aides - Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Serbian interior minister, and Nikola Sainovic, the republic's ex-deputy prime minister - in exchange for which all future war crimes trials of Serb suspects would be held in Belgrade.


Djindjic told Pink that extradition would in that case also bypass the Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, who is indicted together with Milosevic.


Obrad Kesic, one of the most noted experts on Serbian-American relations, confirmed the offer had been made. In an article for the Belgrade weekly Reporter, Kesic also brought up the names of the "Vukovar trio" - General Mile Mrksic, Colonel Veselin Sljivancanin and Captain Miroslav Radic. He said Serbia had been asked to arrest the three former Yugoslav army officers along with Mladic and Karadzic.


Kesic went on, "In return, the American administration claims that it would exert its influence on (Hague prosecutor) Carla Del Ponte to dissuade her from issuing any new indictments against the Serbs. The US would then ask The Hague to grant permission for future trials to be held in Belgrade."


But the "Vukovar trio" appear to be no longer among The Hague's "three or four" priority suspects mentioned by Djindjic. Besides Mladic and Karadzic, attention seems to have shifted to Milosevic's closest allies who were named in May 1999 in connection with the so-called Kosovo indictment.


These allies include Serbian President Milutinovic, former Yugoslav defence minister General Dragoljub Ojdanic along with Sainovic and Stojiljkovic, two top-rank officials in the Milosevic regime. The latter two appear to be the ones The Hague is most interested in as they could provide vital insider testimony against Milosevic.


In addition, The Hague could also request the extradition of Rade Markovic, Milosevic's chief of secret police who is wanted for crimes committed in Kosovo. Last month, Hague investigators invited Markovic, now in a Belgrade prison charged with organising political assassinations of


Milosevic's opponents, to testify against his former boss. Should he refuse to testify, which already seems to be the case, Markovic might end up at The Hague as a suspect instead of a witness.


The Serbian government has been requested to send Sainovic, Stojiljkovic, and Markovic off to The Hague by February 12, when Milosevic's trial is to begin. It will be much easier for Djindjic to send these Milosevic officials, much hated by the people, off to the international court than to extradite Mladic.


However, extraditing all four men in one swoop might lessen opposition from Mladic's powerful allies who include sections of the army and much of the public. Maybe this is why, according to the IWPR source, police


have already begun preparations for Mladic's arrest.


His seizure will inevitably carry risks. Mladic is believed to be surrounded by armed supporters, blindly loyal to him ever since the wars in Croatia and


Bosnia. Many fear the Bosnian Serb commander might fight to the death rather than go to The Hague. He is probably the only Hague suspect who has not been visited by diplomatic or other officials urging him to surrender.


A police operation against Mladic would be far more complicated than the one in which Milosevic was arrested on April 1 last year. Besides moving in on his hideout, police would need to blockade areas where his supporters are known to be.


Arresting Mladic will be the most hazardous task faced by the post-Milosevic authorities and Djindjic's biggest political challenge.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor-in-chief of Belgrade weekly BlicNews.


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