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Former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic was one of the world’s most sought after war criminals who had eluded the United Nations (UN) War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague since his indictment 16 years ago. But the hunt for Mladic came to an end on Wednesday with his capture in a small town not far from Belgrade, Serbia’s capital. When arrested, the 69-year-old fugitive was living in a relative’s house under a false name.
“It’s an important day for justice,” said Serge Brammertz, the UN’s chief prosecutor. After his extradition to Holland, Brammertz will try Mladic for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Serbian President Boris Tadic announced Mladic’s arrest on Thursday, after which accolades poured in from around the world. The British Foreign Minister William Hague spoke of “a historic moment.” President Obama also praised the arrest at the G8 summit meeting he was attending in France with other world leaders.
“May the families of Mladic’s victims find some solace in today’s arrest, and may this deepen the ties among the people of the region,” Obama said in reaction to the news.
But while the world community is right to celebrate a war criminal ending up in court to answer for his heinous crimes and that relatives of the deceased will find some comfort, like with Osama bin Laden, however, uncomfortable questions remain to be answered. How was the former Serb general, for example, able to escape the Serbian authorities’ attention for so long when he was living so close to Belgrade at a relative’s house? And why were his whereabouts suddenly “discovered” only now 16 years after the 1995 indictment was handed down?
The name Mladic is forever connected with the worst atrocity of the 1992 to 1995 civil war in Bosnia that saw 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys slaughtered by Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces after they had captured the town of Srebrenica in an UN-protected zone in 1995. After chasing away a weak and lightly-armed Dutch NATO contingent, Mladic’s soldiers shot the boys and men, many of them disarmed prisoners of war, and buried them in mass graves. It was the worst massacre in Europe since World War Two and led NATO to intervene in the Balkan conflict.
Last year, several heads of state and relatives of the deceased marked the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre. But all traces of Mladic, who was present for some of the barbaric killings, earning for himself the nickname “The Butcher of Srebrenica,” had supposedly been lost. Until this week.
With Mladic’s arrest, Serbia gains a lot more than just international praise. The country had been accused of non-cooperation in finding and bringing Mladic to justice, which was a major obstacle blocking Serbia from acquiring a coveted European Union (EU) membership.
Serge Brammertz, for example, was to deliver a damaging report next month “critical of Serbia’s lack of cooperation” in locating Mladic and other Serbian criminals, which would have hurt Serbia’s admission chances even more. But with Mladic’s capture, the Brammertz report disappears and the UN’s chief prosecutor joins the chorus in singing Serbia’s praise, while its EU admission chances take a giant step towards realization. The EU’s enlargement commissioner confirmed this on Wednesday when he said “…Serbia is closer to the European Union than it was yesterday.
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