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US Urges Roundup of Remaining Balkans War Crimes Fugitives

The United States Friday called on Serbia and the Bosnian Serb entity to follow-up the arrest of a key Balkans war crimes suspect with the capture of the five remaining indicted fugitives. Chief among them are former Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are welcoming Thursday's arrest of former Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir in what was reported to have been a joint operation by police of Serbia and the neighboring Serb entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Republika Serpska.

However, they say there cannot be closure in the 1990's war crimes or truly normal political relationships in the region until the remaining wartime fugitives, especially Karadzic and Mladic, are arrested and sent to the international Hague tribunal.

News accounts say Tolimir, alleged to have been a key figure in the 1995 massacre of thousands of Bosnian muslims at Srebrenica, was captured as he tried to cross without proper documents from Serbia into the Republika Serpska.

Tolimir, who was indicted in 2005 on charges of war crimes and genocide, was taken to a NATO base near Sarajevo and flown to the Hague on Friday.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey joined European Union officials in welcoming the arrest though stressing that more needs to be done.

"This was, as I understand it, action that was taken as a result of cooperation between the Republika Serpska and Serbian government authorities, and certainly that's a welcome and positive development," he said.

"There are, as you know, still five people who are indicted by the tribunal, including Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic who are still at large, and we do want to see them and all the other remaining indictees turned over to the tribunal," he added.

U.S. officials believe Karadzic and Mladic have been in hiding in either Serbia or the Bosnian Serb region, perhaps with the connivance of local officials.

Spokesman Casey said that for authorities there to be credible in their professed commitment to full cooperation with the tribunal, the remaining fugitives must be located, brought into custody and turned over to the prosecutors in the Netherlands.

He said more than a decade has passed since the Balkans fighting and that the two kingpins of the war need to face justice for there to be full accountability and a true resolution of the conflict.

U.S. and European Union officials have said repeatedly that the issue of the war crimes fugitives is an impediment to closer ties by Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the E.U. and NATO.

The matter was raised here last week in an unsuccessful round of U.S.-brokered talks with Bosnian Muslim and Serb leaders on reforming the central government in Sarajevo, including unifying the separate police forces of the Republika Serpska and the Muslim-Croat federation.