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Mladic arrest rescues Serbia's EU hopes

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2011-05-27

President Boris Tadic (pictured) has said the arrest of Serbia's most wanted war criminal "opened" EU membership for his country, but the sudden change of status from pariah state to EU hopeful is raising questions in Europe.

The arrest of former Serbian war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic was welcomed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Thursday, and paraded as a clear sign that Serbia is serious about gaining EU candidate status by the end of the year. However, the news has also fueled speculation that the Serbian government has been protecting its alleged war criminals.

Speaking to reporters in Belgrade, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Mladic’s capture “removes a heavy burden from Serbia and closes a page of our unfortunate history”, adding that the development “opened” all doors to membership in the European Union.

The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, echoed that sentiment hours later when he said that "justice has been served, and a great obstacle on the Serbian road to the European Union has been removed."

Serbia’s bid to become a candidate to join the European Union (in December 2009) has been blocked due to what member states have called a lack of progress in apprehending Mladic and Goran Hadzic, another Serb charged with war crimes by the ICTY and who is still at large.

Dutch appeasement

According to Natasha Wunsch, a research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, while the EU has pressed Serbia to apprehend both fugitives and to pursue dialogue with rival Kosovo, Mladic’s arrest is the key to opening Europe’s door. “Clearly [Mladic] was the main person. His capture was most important to the EU and the Netherlands, who is blocking Serbia’s candidacy,” Wunsch explained.

In July 1995, Mladic commanded the Bosnian Serb forces that massacred thousands of civilians in the town of Srebrenica – a supposed UN “safe area” protected by Dutch peacekeepers. “That event is very present in the Dutch public’s mind,” Wunsch said. “Also, the ICTY is located in the Hague, [Netherlands], so the Dutch have an interest not to see their own tribunal weakened.”

Mladic was indicted by an international war crimes court in 1995 on genocide charges for the Srebrenica massacre and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. He kept a low profile after the Bosnia war and then faded from public view in the early 2000s.

'Perfect' timing

Serbia’s sudden change of status from pariah state to EU hopeful has raised questions in Europe about what role Belgrade played in Mladic’s ability to evade justice for the past 16 years. Exactly one week ago, EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso visited Belgrade and told Serbian leaders that “time was running out”.

“Regarding cooperation with the ICTY, let me be very clear: There is no other way than for Serbia to step up its efforts in the search of the two remaining fugitives. Full cooperation is essential for EU membership, as our member states and the European Parliament have made very clear,” Barroso said.

However, searching for Mladic was not a policy most Serbians supported. According to a poll by the National Council for Cooperation with the ICTY last week, 78% of Serbians surveyed said they would not tip off authorities about Mladic, even for the 10-million-euro reward for his capture.

According to FRANCE 24’s correspondent Laurent Rouy in Belgrade, at home Mladic is viewed as someone who defended Serbian lives during the Bosnian War and his arrest has been interpreted as a trade-off to appease strongmen in Brussels.

Mladic’s arrest also comes just days after the ICTY’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, filed a report to the UN Security Council about Serbia’s level of cooperation with the court. According to Serbian news agency B92, the report said that Serbia’s failure was undermining Belgrade authorities’ credibility and their statements that they were prepared to fully cooperate with the ICTY.

The report, which will be discussed at the UN on June 6, will be the last before the European Commission gives its opinion on Serbia's candidacy bid on October 12. On Thursday, following news of Mladic’s capture, Brammertz was compelled to sing a different tune.

"Mladic's arrest is a clear sign that commitment to international justice has been confirmed. Today's event proves that people responsible for huge violations of international humanitarian law can no longer count on going unpunished," Brammertz said.

Date created : 2011-05-26


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