Top War Crimes Suspect Negotiating for Surrender
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
BELGRADE, June 13 -- One of the Balkans' most-wanted war crimes suspects, Ratko Mladic, has been negotiating with the Serbian government over his possible surrender to a U.N. court in The Hague, where he would face genocide charges, Serbian officials said.
The talks with Mladic, who is charged with overseeing the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslim prisoners taken from the town of Srebrenica almost 10 years ago, have occurred occasionally since December, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Although news reports here have said government forces were closing in on Mladic, Serbian officials insist his exact whereabouts are unknown. The talks, carried out at a distance through a chain of intermediaries, reportedly began at the request of Mladic, who commanded the Bosnian Serb army during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government has been under heavy pressure from the United States and the European Union to resolve the cases of war crime suspects. Since last October, at least 15 wanted Serb suspects have turned themselves in, some reluctantly and out of fear of arrest.
In light of this, Serbian officials said, Mladic agreed to discuss his surrender, and has focused in talks with the government on financial security and safety for his family.
The Bush administration, which has freed up $10 million in aid to Serbia, has expressed optimism that Mladic would be sent to The Hague. Serbia is "working very seriously to find Mladic," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said after talks last week with officials in Belgrade.
"There will be a sincere attempt to capture him or to have him voluntarily surrender and to send him to The Hague," Burns said.
The chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, is pressing for Mladic's arrest by July 11, the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Srebrenica killings. "We cannot wait any longer," Del Ponte told reporters earlier this month. Also sought is Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the breakaway Serb-populated area of Bosnia.
"I need Karadzic and Mladic in The Hague before 11 July to be able to participate in the commemoration of Srebrenica," Del Ponte said, describing those surrenders as "the only decent way to pay tribute" to the survivors.
The men -- U.N. officials say Karadzic is in Bosnia -- each face 16 counts of genocide, breaches of the laws of war and crimes against humanity. Mladic's forces killed thousands of Muslims at Srebrenica in order to "terrorize and demoralize the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat population," the indictment against him says. According to prosecutors, both Mladic and Karadzic were responsible for illegal detentions, murder, rape and ill treatment of civilians.
Videotapes circulating in Belgrade of the 1995 sequence of events in and around Srebrenica show Mladic commanding troops, chatting with civilians, promising to treat prisoners under Geneva Convention rules and brushing off U.N. officials' objections to his roundup.
He also gave interviews to Serbian television, saying, "The time has come to take revenge on the Turks," which was the label pinned by Serbs on Bosnian Muslims. At another point, a video showed him telling a crowd of women: "Don't wail. No one will harm you."