BELGRADE, March 18 -- CIA agents took part in dozens of unsuccessful attempts by Serbian police in 2003 to capture the Bosnian Serb wartime commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who faces war crimes charges before an international tribunal, a former prime minister said Friday.
Zoran Zivkovic, who headed Serbia's government for nearly a year starting in March 2003, said an agreement on Serbian-U.S. cooperation in the hunt for Mladic had been reached with former secretary of state Colin Powell, former CIA chief George Tenet and other top U.S. officials.
Former Serb prime minister Zoran Zivkovic said CIA assisted in vain search for wartime commander.
"We had a clear agreement with Washington that . . . for at least six months there must be coordinated activities" in the search for Mladic that would yield either his capture or proof that he was not in Serbian territory, Zivkovic told the Associated Press. U.S. officials in Belgrade had no immediate comment on his account.
"Three CIA employees arrived here whose task was to check, together with members of the Security and Information Agency, all reports, tips and indications about Mladic's alleged hideouts," Zivkovic said, referring to a Serbian government organization. He added that "dozens of actions were carried out" in Belgrade and elsewhere in Serbia.
Zivkovic did not name the CIA agents but said they were unarmed and "took part as observers."
The tips on Mladic's suspected hideouts came from the U. N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as well as from what Zivkovic described as Western sources. "None of the alleged places was left unchecked," he said.
Extradition of Mladic, who is accused of genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, has been a key condition for Serbia's membership in the European Union and NATO.
By late 2003, the former prime minister said, the Serbian-U.S. search for Mladic was close to concluding that the fugitive general was not in Serbia. But the cooperation ended after Zivkovic's Democratic Party was defeated in general elections in December 2003 and he was replaced two months later by the current prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica.