Serb general tells of split in the ranks

Robert Block gained a rare interview with Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander, and learned why he believes the war must go on
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The Independent Online
General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander, yesterday confirmed the existence of rifts within the Bosnian Serb leadership, and appears to believe that Belgrade never really abandoned its designs in Bosnia.

Speaking to the Independent in his first interview since the Bosnian Serbs took hundreds of United Nations hostages to prevent air strikes, General Mladic attempted to dismiss rumours of a split between him and Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader. They were "cooked up in the kitchens of Serb enemies", he said. However, his eyes blazed as he accused the Bosnian Serb politicians of failing to mobilise the people behind them. "We did not manage to ensure the war's burden was evenly distributed among the Serbs," he said.

His criticism of the Bosnian Serb political leadership raised fears among some politicians that he might be planning a coup. The general denied all such allegations. But he went on to accuse the Bosnian Serb leader of corruption. Singling out Mr Karadzic's now disbanded personal secret police, the "Typhoon", General Mladic said it was shameful that its disgraced members were rewarded with "business premises and restaurants".

General Mladic sees himself as a solitary knight on the ramparts of European civilisation, fighting against an almost global conspiracy. Flanked by his adoring followers in northern Bosnia, he can even afford to talk of peace. "War and its weapons are too dangerous an invention of the human mind to play with," he said, eyes sparkling. "If human kind were to heed my advice, I wouldn't allow the word 'war' to be uttered in any language. I would ban weapons, even as toys."

Venom is never far below the surface, however. He saves much of it for the paramilitary warlords, whom he accused of enriching themselves on the backs of the people.

He also attacked statements from some Bosnian Serb leaders to the effect that the war will soon end. "Our people should not be told what they want to hear but the truth," he said. "My wish is that this war is finished by politicians, not soldiers. But the stars that I've seen in the international community's sky, lead me to believe that soldiers will be the ones to finish it."

In a speech to the Bosnian Serb army this week, General Mladic thanked the rump Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, for its support for the self-declared Bosnian Serb Republic. His words appeared to show that the breakdown in relations between President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his erstwhile client warlords last year over their refusal to accept the Contact Group peace plan was less complete than previously thought.

Bloodstained warlord, page 12