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Serbian Officials Pledge to Arrest Mladic


As Serbia faces yet another deadline for the apprehension and extradition to The Hague of accused war criminal Ratko Mladic, there is still no solid indication that an arrest is about to be made. Serbian officials say they are determined to arrest Mladic.

Serbian officials are assuring the European Union they are committed to capturing Mladic in the hope of avoiding EU sanctions for missing the February 27 deadline. Serbian media have been speculating for several days the arrest of General Mladic was imminent.

The 63-year-old Mladic has been on the run for 10 years. He was indicted by The Hague war crimes tribunal for his role in Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, during which up to 10,000 people perished. The former chief of the Bosnian Serb army is also wanted for allegedly ordering the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

Belgrade-based analysts tell VOA there are some grounds for the belief that an arrest is near. Serb officials, they say, no longer deny that Mladic is in Serbia. Daniel Sunter, a former journalist who now heads Belgrade's Euro Atlantic Initiative, says he too now believes an arrest is imminent.

"I'm really now more optimistic on the Mladic case than I used to be because I see finally that the government understands that without solving the Mladic case Serbia can not move forward," said Daniel Sunter.

Serbian officials concede that unless Mladic is arrested very soon Serbia's negotiations for closer ties with the European Union will be suspended. The Serbian government has made membership in the EU its principal foreign policy objective.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica heads a not very strong minority government. Many have long believed that Mr. Kostunica either didn't dare or didn't want to go after Mladic. That perception changed as war crimes chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte made clear that she expected immediate action on Mladic. Many here believe Mladic has avoided arrest because he has been protected by rogue elements within the Serbian security apparatus. Daniel Sunter disputes the often made assertion that Mr. Kostunica fears a popular backlash if Mladic goes to The Hague.

"I think the public is aware that without solving the Mladic case Serbia will be stuck," he said. "And, I don't expect that huge rallies will take place when the Mladic case is solved [here in Serbia]."

Several thousand people on Friday did participate in a anti-government rally sponsored by Serbia's nationalist Radical Party.

Aside from Mladic, the Serbian government faces other major issues. Foremost is its approach to negotiations over the status of Kosovo, the United Nations administered southern province whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.