Serb army is accused of hiding 'Butcher of Bosnia' Mladic

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The Independent Online

The mysterious deaths of two young Serbian sentries at an army barracks in Belgrade have led to accusations that General Ratko Mladic, the indicted war criminal known as the "Butcher of Bosnia", is being hidden by military cronies in the Serb capital with government connivance.

The mysterious deaths of two young Serbian sentries at an army barracks in Belgrade have led to accusations that General Ratko Mladic, the indicted war criminal known as the "Butcher of Bosnia", is being hidden by military cronies in the Serb capital with government connivance.

A meeting of Serbia-Montenegro's Supreme Defence Council, which had been due yesterday to examine the findings of an independent inquiry into the affair, was abruptly cancelled. This reinforced speculation that the government of the Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, still cannot face making public the truth about why Drazen Milovanovic and Dragan Jakovljevic were found shot dead early in October in the sprawling Topcider army compound, near Belgrade's diplomatic quarter.

An earlier military investigation, which claimed that Milovanovic shot and killed Jakovljevic and then turned his rifle on himself, was branded a ludicrous cover-up by the Serbian media. The independent inquiry was ordered following a public outcry.

Speculation is rife in Belgrade that a network of bunkers and tunnels under Topcider is the hiding place of accused war criminals such as Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander indicted for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, Europe's worst atrocity since the Second World War. Serbia's Foreign Minister, Vuk Draskovic, is among those who allege that the two sentries were murdered by the BIA (Security Information Agency) secret service to silence them over the presence of men, like Mladic, wanted by the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. "Our soldiers are being killed outside the secret entrances of those whose hostages we are, and then they say these young guards shot each other," Mr Draskovic said. "They are hiding the crime with lies and new crimes."

There was no comment from the office of Mr Kostunica, a moderate nationalist who was once friendly with Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president accused of masterminding the Srebrenica slaughter. He is believed to be hiding in the Serbian portion of Bosnia, but the US earlier this year refused to allocate $40m (£22m) earmarked for Serbia as punishment for allegedly harbouring Mladic. Belgrade has repeatedly denied that Mladic is in Serbia, despite several reported sightings in the capital. It admits, however, that concern for "political stability" prevents it arresting three other generals wanted by The Hague and assumed to be in Belgrade, where they are popular with nationalists, and has urged the three to surrender voluntarily "for the good of Serbia".

Mr Draskovic's views are echoed by Zarko Korac, a former deputy prime minister under Zoran Djindjic, the pro-Western premier shot dead by paramilitaries in April 2003. Djindjic's murder was seen as revenge for arranging the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, to The Hague. Mr Korac says that the fugitives have the support of "powerful groups in the army".

The Topcider affair has underlined how far the popular uprising that overthrew Milosevic in 2000 failed to dismantle the power of the army, which Serbs have long regarded as the most hallowed institution of the nation, along with the Orthodox Church. Mr Kostunica's failure to deal with the scandal has caused many young Serbs to scorn him as "Milosevic-light".

Some commentators have speculated that extreme elements in the army might even be contemplating a military takeover rather than face a purge by the government, which is under constant Western pressure. "The appointment of an independent inquiry has needled the army," said Voja Zanetic, a writer and Milosevic opponent. "A coup would be unexpected, but so was the killing of Djindjic."

Serbia's pro-Western President, Boris Tadic, also came under fire from critics last week after it was disclosed that as federal defence minister he had seen a photograph of another Hague indictee, Veselin Sljivancanin, hiding at an army barracks. He was on the run from trial for his alleged part in the massacre of hundreds of wounded Croatian prisoners after the besieged city of Vukovar fell to Serb and Montenegrin forces.

Meanwhile Lord Ashdown, the international community's High Representative in Sarajevo, told the UN Security Council last week that Serb-run Bosnia's failure to arrest a single war criminal since the 1995 Dayton Treaty is blocking European Union membership. "This now is the biggest stumbling block towards a brighter future, and the longer it remains unresolved the longer it will take for Bosnia to make the final crucial break with the past," he said.

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