Serbia in crisis as EU halts trade talks

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The Independent Online

Serbia's government was plunged into a political crisis as trade talks with the European Union were suspended over Belgrade's failure to arrest Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general who is wanted by the UN war crimes tribunal.

The breakdown of the trade deal prompted Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister, Miroljub Labus, to resign, saying he did not want to be part of a government that failed to keep its promises.

Western officials believe that Mladic, who is accused of orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, is living in the Belgrade area and have made his arrest a litmus test of Belgrade's co-operation on war crimes.

The UN tribunal's chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, said yesterday: "I was misled when I was told at the end of March that the arrest of Mladic was a matter of days or weeks." She said that the Serbian authorities knew Mladic's location as recently as 10 days ago.

UN and EU officials believe that the war crimes suspect is being helped by nationalist elements in the intelligence community. The European commissioner for enlargement, Olli Rehn, said that Belgrade's "security services and particularly military intelligence have not been fully under the civilian, democratic control of the government".

In his letter of resignation, Mr Labus, who is also Serbia's chief negotiator with the EU, said his government had "betrayed the most important interest of the country and citizens of Serbia".