Mladic's `illness' fuels plot rumours

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The Independent Online
Sarajevo - Will history record that the Bosnian Serb army tripped and fell over a couple of kidney stones embedded in the innards of General Ratko Mladic? The rebel commander, who has been absent over the past few days as his forces have lost most of western Bosnia, is reported to be in a military hospital in Belgrade for treatment (for the stones, not because of Radovan Karadzic's professional assessment this summer of his general as "mad"), writes Emma Daly.

But few believe in the story, viewing it as a Soviet-style diplomatic hospitalisation. One conspiracy theory is that the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, has sent Gen Mladic to the isolation ward to stop any nonsense about standing up to Nato over the withdrawal of Serb heavy weapons from around Sarajevo.

Oslobodjenje, the Sarajevo daily, yesterday reported without foundation that Gen Mladic was languishing in "diplomatic jail" in Belgrade with three of his top commanders.

Another theory is that the general, unable to stomach the sell-out of western Bosnia but powerless to stop it, has bowed out voluntarily. An alternative scenario is that his troops have been routed and the sick-bed provides an alibi.

The general's last confirmed sighting came last Wednesday, when he and Mr Karadzic met the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, in Belgrade, to seal their capitulation over the heavy weapons around Sarajevo. Mr Karadzic has also limited his public appearances recently.

Gen Mladic has absented himself in the past when he was reported as being at odds with his political masters. His friends say he is looking forward to retirement, presumably in his Serb statelet if it still exists by that time, as he is wanted in The Hague on war-crimes charges.