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Serbia Faces Deadline to Hand Over War Crimes Fugitive, Mladic

Serbia is under renewed pressure to find and hand over accused war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, who is believed to be hiding in Serbia. The war crimes tribunal in the Hague is setting a deadline for action.

No-one knows whether General Mladic will be found and sent to join former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who is already on trial in the Hague for war crimes. Tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte says that General Mladic has been hiding in Serbia for most of the past decade. He is charged with genocide for the 1995 massacre of eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia.

The president of the Hague tribunal Theodor Meron was in Belgrade last week to deliver the message that there must be results by the end of the year. Serbia's defense minister, Zoran Stankovic, said Friday after meeting with Mr. Meron that his country faces difficult moments and that unless General Mladic is arrested, the recent steps toward integrating Serbia into the European Union will be halted.

Sonja Biserko, a human rights activist and fierce critic of Serbia's moderate nationalist Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, believes that after months of delay, Mr. Kostunica now probably does want the fugitive general found and sent to the Hague.

"He (Kostunica) said (after meeting Meron) that now there is the political will (in the government) to arrest Mladic but that they don't know where he is. So, this is the first time that he (Kostunica) mentions the political will to arrest him," he said.

Tribunal president Meron says that Mr. Kostunica assured him that the Serbian government is 100-percent committed to fulfilling its obligations to the international community. This year Mr. Kostunica's government has handed over to the Hague 13 indicted fugitives but none have been extradited in the past six months. Mr. Stankovic, the recently appointed defense minister, at one time was a close associate of General Mladic. His appointment has been interpreted in the Serbian media as evidence that a stepped up search for the fugitive general is underway.