Leading article: Serbia must hand over its wanted men

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The Independent Online

The UN's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has been increasing the pressure on authorities in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro to locate and surrender the two men in time for next week's anniversary. So far her efforts have been fruitless. The latest suggestion by international security agencies is that Karadzic is hiding in a mountainous part of north-west Montenegro. This would put him out of the reach of UN peacekeepers in Bosnia, whose jurisdiction does not cover Montenegro.

It is worth recalling exactly what barbarities Karadzic and Mladic were accused of during the Bosnian war. As well as the unspeakable massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslims near the town of Srebrenica, they are accused of authorising rapes, internment and the use of human shields. The wounds inflicted on Bosnia in the first half of the 1990s will never be healed until these men are brought to trial, in the manner of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

The efforts of the Serbian authorities to do so have been feeble. When one considers that this is a part of the world in which it is possible to buy lapel badges depicting Karadzic and Mladic, that is perhaps unsurprising. But there are signs that things might be changing within Serbian society. A video showing the infamous Scorpions unit executing Bosnian Muslims during the war was recently broadcast on Serbian TV. This appears to have challenged the way many Serbs see themselves. The popular belief among Serbs that they were victims during the war is hard to reconcile with these images. And the country's refusal to co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal is hurting Serbia economically. All discussion of Serbia entering the European Union or Nato is off limits until Mladic and Karadzic are surrendered. Meanwhile, Serbs must watch their neighbours in Bulgaria and Romania making progress towards EU membership. It is also worth noting that this year more than a dozen other war crimes suspects have surrendered.

It is premature to point to a sea change in Serbian attitudes towards their country's recent history - and its embodiment in the forms of Karadzic and Mladic. But Serbia should be in no doubt that it will never be in a position to join the fraternity of civilised nations while it chooses to protect two of the world's most notorious fugitives.

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