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Serbian President Urges War Crimes Suspect Mladic to Surrender

Serbia's president is urging former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to surrender to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague for his role in the Bosnian war and the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica 10 years ago.

Serbian President Boris Tadic told members of his Democratic Party Thursday that General Mladic should turn himself in. In his strongest statement yet, Mr. Tadic called on government institutions in Serbia to fulfill their obligations to find Mr. Mladic and extradite him to The Hague for trial on war crimes charges. The former Bosnian Serb general is accused of ordering the massacre of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslims, after Serb forces overran the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica in 1995. He is believed to be hiding in Serbia.

Serbia's president Boris Tadic (r) with Austria's President Heinz Fischer
President Tadic, who attended Monday's memorial service marking the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, said, without the arrest of General Mladic, Serbia cannot join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, offered to non-NATO members, or the European Union. Serbia's foreign policy is centered on joining west European institutions, particularly the European Union.

Serbia has been under strong pressure for years from the European Union and the United States to turn over to the tribunal Mr. Mladic and Bosnian Serb war-time leader Radovan Karadzic.

The Serbian president's appeal for Mr. Mladic's surrender indicates that Serbia may be more willing than in the past to cooperate with the Hague tribunal. And, in recent weeks, tribunal and U.S. officials have indicated they see a change in Serbia's attitude toward the tribunal.

Visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, in separate meetings with Mr. Tadic, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, repeated the west's insistence that General Mladic be sent to The Hague.

Media analyst and publisher Bratislav Grubacic says, after years of delay, the Serbian government is preparing the public for the apprehension of General Mladic. Mr. Grubacic says, with some Serbs moving beyond denial and recognizing that atrocities were committed by Serbs at Srebrenica, support for General Mladic has dropped significantly.

"I don't think Mladic's transfer would provoke any dramatic consequences [or protests]," he said. "Simply saying, I think mentally, the situation in Serbia really has improved, compared to five or six years ago."

Until recently, many Serbs regarded General Mladic as a patriot, unfairly targeted by Western countries hostile to Serbia. That perception, say many analysts in Belgrade, has changed since the beginning of June, when Serb television showed a video of Serb paramilitaries killing unarmed Muslims near Srebrenica. War crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte says the Serbian government has promised to have General Mladic in The Hague by the end of this year.