Sixteen years after a warrant went out for his arrest, Ratko Mladic, the accused Bosnian Serb war criminal, has been taken into custody, the Serbian president announced Thursday.
It ends a 15-year game of hide and seek. For years, Mladic hid in plain sight, attending soccer matches in front of foreign journalists and working in the government of Serbia for years after his indictment.
For years, the European Union accused Serbia of looking the other way, but under a more pro-Western leadership, the government finally started pursuing him in earnest in 2008.
Mladic is the last of the three top war criminals to be arrested after Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia who died during his war crimes trial, and Radovan Karadzic, who was captured in 2008 masquerading as a New Age healer. In 2001, after the arrest of Milosevic, but before Karadzic and Mladic were apprehended, the late American diplomat Richard Holbrooke wrote, “One down (sort of). Two to go,” in a New York Times Op-Ed.
Holbrooke, who brokered the peace agreement in Bosnia, went on to say:
The continued freedom of these men — one the racist leader of the Bosnian Serbs, the other a hands-on mass murderer — has undermined Western policy. These men, especially Mr. Karadzic, remain central to opposition to a single, multiethnic Bosnia.
Mladic personally led his troops in the Serb onslaught against the U.N.-protected enclave of Srebrenica. Thousands of Muslim men and boys were killed there and the town’s name has become nearly synonymous with the horrible bloodshed of the Balkan conflict.
Last year, Hasan Nuhanovic, whose family was killed during the Mladic-led attack, wrote:
I read the statement of one of the murderers who said: "I couldn't shoot anymore, my index finger was starting to get numb from so much killing. I was killing them for hours." Someone, he says, had promised them five marks for each Muslim they killed that day. And he says that they made the drivers of the buses that brought the Muslims there kill at least a few so that they wouldn't talk about it to anyone.
Mladic will be extradited to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the Associated Press, “his arrest finally offers a chance for justice to be done.”