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EU Gives Serbia New Deadline to Arrest Mladic


The European Union Monday gave Serbia until the end of March to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratco Mladic or face possible suspension of talks about Belgrade's possible membership in the EU.

Serbia dodged a bullet Monday as European Union foreign ministers stepped back from threats of an immediate suspension of membership talks. Instead, the EU gave Belgrade a strong reprimand and notice that it has only one more month to arrest and extradite Ratko Mladic to The Hague war crimes tribunal. Along with fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Mladic is on top of the most wanted list of the war crimes suspects still at large. He is charged with genocide for the murder of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica 10 years ago.

Political analyst Bratislav Grubacic says he detects a significant change in government policy towards Mladic and is convinced that the fugitive general will soon be arrested.

"The only problem is that it is still not quite clear whether it will happen today, or within three days, or a week, or maybe a month," he said. "But definitely it will happen. What we can say is that it is true that the current government really wants to have Mladic in The Hague."

Human rights advocate Sonja Biserko, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, agrees that the Serbian government has changed course and wants to be rid of Mladic.

"Obviously, for the first time, high officials are telling us that Mladic is going to be arrested," she said. "And for the first time the government has undertaken some concrete steps [to do so]."

Biserko says Mr. Kostunica, wanting Serbia to be part of Europe, has no choice but to go after Mladic. Grubacic says while Mr. Kostunica no longer denies that Mladic has been hiding in Serbia, the prime minister would prefer that the arrest take place outside the country.

"Maybe, they would like most to have Mladic being arrested somewhere out of Serbia, like Bosnia or wherever," he said. "And then after that to say, okay, someone else did it. So we didn't do it."

James Lyon, an American political analyst who lives in Belgrade, also agrees that the capture of Mladic is near. He says by turning Mladic over to the war crimes court, the Serbian government stands to boost its image abroad and strengthen its bargaining position in the current negotiations on the final status of Kosovo, the Serbian province whose Albanian majority want full independence.