Vesna Peric Zimonjic: Hunt for Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Bosnia, goes on

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A question mark hangs over Serbia's European future owing to its failure to arrest and hand over to international justice the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serbs, General Ratko Mladic.

The surrender of Mladic, 66, who is accused of genocide over the deaths of more than 7,500 Bosnian Muslims in the "safe haven" of Srebrenica in July 1995, remains a prime condition Serbia has to fulfil in order to join the family of European nations. In recent months, efforts to locate Mladic have been stepped up, particularly since the arrest of the Bosnian Serbs' former political leader Radovan Karadzic last July. The two went into hiding in 1995.

Mr Karadzic, who had posed as a doctor of alternative medicine, is awaiting trial before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He is also charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, notably for the three-and-a-half-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo that left 10,000 dead. The Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said last weekend that "every tip-off connected to Mladic had been checked out, many financial channels supporting him had been severed and his recent movements have been reconstructed".

He stressed that the political will existed to bring in Mladic: "Everyone is doing all they can to complete the co-operation [with the international war crimes tribunal]." Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister responsible for relations with the court, recently said he hoped Mladic will be arrested "by the end of the year".

Many details have surfaced on Mladic's networks of guards, mostly hardcore wartime subordinates. He had a false identity card which enabled him to move around freely.

While on a luxury holiday in Montenegro in 1997, he allegedly rented a villa in a small village on the Adriatic, but accommodated his 10 bodyguards in a tent outside. They were paid a mere 150 German marks each for the two weeks. Recently uncovered documents of the Serbian Security and Information Agency describe Mladic as a paranoid and egotistical person who moved frequently between Belgrade flats in recent years.

He reportedly wore no slippers to avoid noise when at home, and rarely flushed the lavatory, fearing that neighbours might hear him. Cooked meals were brought to him, prepared by the mothers of his aides. Belgrade has set up a special tip-off phone line and offered a reward of €1m for details that would lead to Mladic's arrest.

But a recent survey showed 65 per cent of Serbs would not provide authorities with information about Mladic if they met him or knew of his whereabouts.

This is not a surprise. Little is being done in Serbia to reveal the truth of the Bosnian war, and Mladic is still regarded by many as a hero who bravely defended Serbs in Bosnia.

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