November 14, 2010 5:36 pm

Hunt for Mladic frustrated despite inquiry

When Serbian police placed a former military intelligence chief under investigation last week, it looked like they might be closing in on Ratko Mladic, the most wanted suspect from the 1990s Balkan wars.

Aco Tomic, chief of military intelligence until 2003, is being investigated for allegedly helping to shelter Mr Mladic, the Bosnian Serb wartime general accused of genocide, on an army base near Belgrade.

With Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor at the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, arriving in Belgrade on Monday, Serbia has come under renewed pressure to demonstrate “full co-operation” in catching the two last high-level war crimes suspects.

Mr Mladic, who led Bosnian Serb troops at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, and the other fugitive, Goran Hadzic, are both likely to be hiding in Serbia, Mr Brammertz’s office says. But they have proved extremely hard to locate.

Serbia, the largest ex-Yugoslav republic, aims to join the European Union within a decade and has sent other indictees to The Hague for trial.

In 2006, on tips from UN prosecutors, Serbian police rounded up much of Mr Mladic’s alleged support network.

As a result, however, the only links to the fugitive general were lost. The tribunal’s investigators, like Serbian prosecutors, have said they felt closer to arresting him four years ago than they do now.

Bosko Jaksic, political and foreign affairs columnist for Politika, a Belgrade daily newspaper, explained: “By arresting Mladic’s supporters, the authorities lost the ability to follow those people to Mladic.”

With the formation of the current pro-EU government in July 2008, there was a shake-up of the intelligence services partly intended to satisfy EU demands for the capture of Mr Mladic.

Within days, Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb political leader, was caught. However, since then the marginalisation of agents close to the old regime appears to have undermined the state’s ability to find Mr Mladic.

“The political will is genuine, but there are no Mladic associates left to negotiate with,” said Mr Jaksic.

The stalled progress is reflected in Mr Brammertz’s findings. After issuing a relatively positive report on Serbian progress a year ago, he has highlighted shortcomings in Belgrade’s co-operation lately. The prosecutor’s conclusions – to be presented to the UN General Assembly in December – can strongly influence the pace of Serbia’s EU integration.

Bozidar Djelic, deputy prime minister for European integration, says Serbia plans to be ready for EU membership by the end of 2015. Actual admission still depended on the climate in Brussels along with the arrest and extradition of the last indictees, factors not entirely in Serbia’s hands, he said.

Meanwhile, the government does all it can to show that it is trying. Belgrade has a history of ramping up police raids before every visit from the chief prosecutor.

“The latest raids and investigations are nothing new, said Braca Grubacic, a political analyst close to the secret services. “It’s all a big show to impress Brammertz and the EU.”

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