SERBIA ABLE, BUT NOT WILLING TO ARREST MLADIC
CHIEF U.N. WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR URGES ARREST OF TOP FUGITIVES IN THE BALKANS
Serbia is able but not willing to arrest top Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said on Thursday (30 March) after meeting Bosnia and Herzegovina's leader Adnan Terzic in Brussels.
"We have a reasonable assumption that Serbia could arrest Mladic if it had the political will and if this political will was translated in concrete steps through the whole administration including the secret and intelligence services," Mr Rehn said, according to Balkans agency DTT-NET.COM.
The statement comes one day before UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte flies from Belgrade to Brussels to give her opinion on whether the EU should suspend Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) negotiations with Serbia.
The EU is due to start the third round of SAA talks with Serbia on 4 April, but the commissioner refused to say if he will take a decision on the issue on Friday (31 March) or on Tuesday.
The SAA is the first legal step toward future EU membership for the Balkan country.
Chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte pushed Serbia anew for the extradition of war crimes suspect Gen. Ratko Mladic, as Serbia neared a European Union deadline to arrest him or face sanctions.
Del Ponte met with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic in Belgrade Wednesday to discuss efforts by Serbian authorities to arrest and extradite Mladic, a former Bosnian Serb army commander wanted on genocide charges.
The EU has given Belgrade until the end of March to find Mladic and hand him over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, or face a suspension of talks – set for April 5 – on building closer ties with the bloc.
Serbian officials recently requested an extension of the deadline, saying more time was needed to hunt down Mladic, who was believed hiding in Serbia under the protection of army hard-liners. But the EU apparently turned down the request.
Tadic said in a statement after his meeting with Del Ponte that “even though the tribunal's credibility eroded after the latest events, Serbia has to complete its cooperation with” the court.
Del Ponte is to report to EU ministers Friday in Brussels, Belgium, on her trip. According to a Serbian government statement on the meeting, Del Ponte said her report to the EU would depend on “concrete measures” taken by Serbian authorities to bring Mladic to justice.
“The suspension of the talks with the European Union would have far-reaching negative consequences for the political stability and democratic reforms in the country,” the statement said.
Del Ponte refused to speak to the media after the talks.
Del Ponte's visit to Belgrade was her first since the death on March 11 of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in his prison cell near The Hague, where he was on trial for war crimes for his part in the bloody breakup of the country in the 1990s.
Milosevic's death has jeopardized Serbia's efforts to hand over more war crimes suspects to the U.N. tribunal. Ultra-nationalists have threatened to topple Kostunica's government if Mladic and other Serb war crimes suspects are extradited to the court, which they consider anti-Serb.
Del Ponte also stopped Wednesday at the military base of the European Union peacekeeping force near Banja Luka in Bosnia, where she pressed the Bosnian Serb prime minister for the capture of another top war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic. He is believed to be hiding in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia.
Mladic and Karadzic, the former political leader of Bosnia's ethnic Serbs, were both indicted in 1995 on charges of orchestrating the massacre of over 8,000 defenceless Muslims in the U.N. enclave of Srebrenica – Europe's worst genocide since World War II.
The level of Belgrade's cooperation with Ms del Ponte's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has deteriorated since last year when several Serb indictees were handed over to The Hague, Mr Rehn explained.
"We have a very clear statement in the framework Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) that we can not conclude the agreement without full cooperation with the ICTY," he said.
"If [the] European Commission sees that there is deterioration of cooperation we must act."
The ICTY has charged Mr Mladic and the former political leader of Bosnia's Serb community, Radovan Karadzic, with crimes related to the killing of 8,000 Bosnian muslim boys and men in Srebrenica in 1995.
Ms del Ponte believes Mr Mladic is hiding in Serbia with the help of Serbian army officers, while she says that Mr Karadzic moves between the Republika Srpska region of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
The Serbian government on Wednesday asked for Ms del Ponte's patience on the Mladic issue, given the fragile political scene and the strong nationalist sentiment in the country.
Bosnian prime minister Adnan Terzic denied some of Ms del Ponte's claims, saying "according to the data we have Mladic and Karadzic aren't in Bosnia, but their supporters are."
He added that full EU membership for the western Balkans is the best way to avoid the tragedy of the 1990s from happening again.
"We survived one cataclysm. We survived the EU's mistake at that time, but now the question is what is going to be the point if some member states make another mistake which the EU wouldn't be able to survive?" Mr Terzic said.
His remarks were a veiled reference to France, Germany and the Netherlands which have lately begun to question if the EU can take in any more states after Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia.
But the prime minister added he was "encouraged" by Mr Rehn's "reaffirmation and confirmation" of the region's EU membership perspective, despite the "dissonant tones" from member states.
Bosnia and Herzegovina launched SAA talks with the EU last November, with Mr Rehn on Thursday urging progress in police, legislative and economic reforms.