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President vows to probe how Mladic evaded capture

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-05-30

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Serbian President Boris Tadic promised to investigate how one of Europe's most-wanted fugitives, former Bosnian Serb army commander Radko Mladic, managed to evade capture for 16 years.

A day after former Bosnian Serb army commander Radko Mladic was arrested, Serbian President Boris Tadic told FRANCE 24 that he was committed to investigating how one of Europe’s most wanted fugitives evaded capture for 16 years.

“Right now, we’re doing a lot in terms of investigating what happened in the past few years,” said Tadic. “It’s important to extend the investigation to see what happened really and to analyse if there’s some possibility that people from the state institutions or political parties were involved in his protection,” said Tadic.

Dubbed “the Butcher of Bosnia,” Mladic was captured Thursday in a relative’s house in the tiny northern Serbian village of Lazarevo, bringing an end to a 16-year hunt for a man indicted for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1990s Bosnian War.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Tadic noted that shortly after Mladic’s 1995 indictment by the ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia), the former Bosnian Serb army commander was probably protected by “people from the government, the state, from the armed forces and the intelligence” services – until former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted by a popular uprising in 2000.

For years after the indictment, Mladic lived openly in the Serbian capital of Belgrade – his sightings at restaurant and football matches making the news and increasing international ire over Serbia’s failure to hand over indicted suspects from the Bosnian conflict.

It was not until Milosevic’s ouster that Mladic disappeared from public view.

“After the democratic changes, he has been protected by people that weren’t formally in the armed forces and intelligence, but with that kind of experience,” said Tadic. “But at the end, he has been protected by other people – mainly his family and friends. Right now, we’re investigating what happened. For me, it’s important that we finish that chapter of our history,” he added.

Dismissing links of Mladic’s capture with Serbia’s EU ambitions

Mladic’s capture paves the way for Serbian efforts to join the European Union (EU), a process that has been blocked due to what member states have called Serbia’s lack of progress in apprehending Mladic and Goran Hadzic, another Serb charged with war crimes by the ICTY and who is still at large.

Over the past few months, Tadic’s government has put Serbia’s EU membership high on its political agenda. It wants Serbia to be awarded the status of a candidate for EU membership in December.

The timing of Mladic’s arrest – which coincided with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s visit to Serbia – has raised questions about whether Thursday’s capture was perhaps too much of a coincidence.

In October, the European Commission is set to present a report on whether to open EU membership negotiations with Serbia.

But in his interview with FRANCE 24, Tadic brushed aside any suggestions of a link between Mladic’s arrest and Serbia’s EU ambitions.

“We didn’t do any calculation about arresting Ratko Mladic, we’ve been working very hard on this issue since the beginning of this government’s term,” he said. “Why have we been implementing reforms in our country in the past few years? We’re doing it because of ourselves, not because of the European Union and the Hague tribunal,” he insisted.

Seeking a 'pragmatic solution' to Kosovo

Another likely obstacle on Serbia’s path to EU membership is the question of Belgrade’s recognition of Kosovo’s independence.

With an overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian population, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Twenty-two of the EU’s 27 member nations have recognised Kosovo’s independence.

In March, Serbia and Kosovo – both EU hopefuls – began EU-backed talks on “practical issues” but not on the question of Kosovo’s sovereignty.

Tadic expressed optimism about finding a “pragmatic solution” on the Kosovo issue.

“It doesn’t mean that Serbia is going to recognize Kosovo’s independence. Serbia is going to defend its legitimate national interest, but at the same time to take into consideration the interests of the Albanian people,” said Tadic before adding, “I’m sure that we can find a pragmatic solution for Kosovo in the future.”

For now though, Tadic said he was happy that Mladic’s capture had closed a particularly thorny chapter in Serbia’s history.

“I’m very proud because my team and the people working on that issue have been successful,” he said. “I think that they deserve some kind of vacation.”


Date created : 2011-05-28


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