Serbia vows to catch Mladic protectors

Serbia vowed on Saturday to track down those who helped Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic evade justice for so long, as fresh details emerged of his arrest after 16 years on the run.

“We will continue to pursue all those who have helped Mladic and other fugitives evade justice,” Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said.

“By hiding Mladic they have caused serious damage to this country. Hiding fugitives from the Hague tribunal is a serious crime,” he added.

Mladic, accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and other atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, was arrested Thursday and is set to be transferred next week to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Judges are expected to rule Monday on an appeal against his transfer to the court, where he faces charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

A judge on Friday ruled he is fit to face trial despite pleas from his lawyer and family that Mladic is not strong enough to be transferred.

His capture came after a 16-year manhunt and amid many questions as to how Europe’s most-wanted man was able to evade capture for so long.

Serbian authorities insist there was no collusion but the opposition here has suggested that some in the security forces in Serbia — where many still see Mladic as a war hero — were involved in protecting him.

President Boris Tadic told the BBC on Friday that authorities would leave no stone unturned in their search for those who sheltered Mladic.

“We’ll extend our investigation to see how he created a protection system or to see if it is possible that some people from the former armed forces or police were involved in the protection,” he said.

Tadic promised a “full and complete picture” of the network.

Meanwhile the Serbian press revealed fresh details of Mladic’s arrest after intelligence officers and a special team tracking war criminals swooped on Lazarevo, a village around 80km north of Belgrade, close to the Romanian border.

Found in a house belonging to a relative, Mladic was an oddly welcoming host when security forces finally tracked him down, media reports said.

Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told RTS television that Mladic said to the arresting officers: “Congratulations guys, you found the one you’ve been looking for.”

Blic newspaper reported that he told a relative when the team arrived: “Branko, give these people something to drink and eat. Here this is my ID card and military record. It is over.”

The team was served ham, cheese and homemade brandy, Blic reported. “Have a drink, refresh yourself, then let’s go,” Mladic reportedly told them.

Asked whether he was armed, Mladic reportedly said: “What kind of general would I be if I was not armed? Here are my two pistols. All these years I’ve had them with me all the time.”

Blic reported that agents tracking down Mladic had identified him from afar using a ring he was known to wear. When he was arrested Mladic removed the ring and told them to give it to his family, Blic reported.

Citing sources in Serbia’s BIA intelligence service, the Politika newspaper reported that Mladic had immediately identified himself and offered no resistance.

The sources said BIA agents had gathered the information that led to Mladic’s arrest, so no one would be eligible to receive the $14-million reward Serbia had offered for tipoffs.

The ICTY indictment holds Mladic responsible for the Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s deadliest atrocity since World War II, in which 8 000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed.

It also accuses him of having overseen the 44-month siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, during which 10 000 were killed.

News of Mladic’s arrest was largely welcomed around the world, but some protests have erupted in the region following his detention.

About 500 ultra-nationalists in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad protested on Thursday, and some 2 000 protesters gathered Friday in the Bosnian Serb town of Pale.

The Serbian ultra-nationalist Radical Party (SRS) has called for a massive protest against Mladic’s arrest on Sunday in Belgrade. — AFP

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Michael Mainville
AFP Moscow bureau chief.

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