Will Mladic be next behind bars?

July 22, 2008 7:20:08 PM PDT
And then there was one. The surprise capture of former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic on U.N. genocide charges has raised expectations that fellow fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic - Karadzic's wartime military commander - could soon join him behind bars.

Serbian authorities made a startling disclosure Tuesday in describing the arrest of Karadzic: They basically stumbled across him while searching for Mladic, a far more brazen figure who - up until a few years ago - reportedly made daring forays into downtown Belgrade.

Since 1995, both men have topped the U.N. war crimes tribunal's most-wanted list, and both had a $5 million State Department bounty on their heads.

They were indicted together for genocide and crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating the bloody siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia's 1992-95 war and the wanton slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.

Although Karadzic's arrest by Serbian security forces and his imminent handover to the tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, represents a huge step for the Balkan country, the international community wasted no time in clamoring anew for Mladic to be brought to justice.

NATO, the European Union and New York-based Human Rights Watch all pressed Serbia to track down the elusive Mladic, who is believed to be hiding somewhere in Serbia.

"That Ratko Mladic is still at liberty is a major obstacle to full accountability for the genocide at Srebrenica," said Richard Dicker, who heads Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program.

A U.N. "safe haven" for Muslim refugees during Bosnia's war, Srebrenica wound up overrun by Serbian forces loyal to the late strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

In a rampage that lasted a week, and led to the worst civilian carnage since World War II, the Serbs separated the men and boys, forced them to strip, killed them and bulldozed their bodies into mass graves, U.N. prosecutors allege.

"Children had their throats slit before their mothers' eyes," said Fouad Riad, an Egyptian judge who prepared the indictment against Mladic and Karadzic. The scene, he said, was marked by "a frenzy of terror that led many to take their own lives."

Just hours before the massacre, Mladic handed out candy to Muslim children rounded up at the town's square and consoled them that all would be fine - even patting one child on the head. That sinister image is forever imprinted in the minds of Srebrenica survivors.

Mladic's ruthlessness is legendary. Once, demanding that air traffic controllers clear his helicopter to land, the general famously uttered: "Here speaks Ratko Mladic - the Serbian god."

Now, many hope the influence of Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, will overcome the entrenched nationalism that long protected Karadzic and finally lead to Mladic's capture.

Tadic recently replaced the head of Serbia's secret police, a man loyal to former nationalist Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica - a significant change that officials here say led to Karadzic's capture Monday evening.

Until about five years ago, Mladic - who once kept a goat he named Madeleine Albright after the former U.S. secretary of state - regularly ventured into downtown Belgrade, dining at gourmet restaurants and attending soccer matches.

After a few halfhearted attempts by Serbian authorities to close in on him, he moved underground.

The problem has always been the same: Mladic is still widely hailed at home as a patriot.

Tough young men stand on street corners across Serbia, selling black T-shirts that bear Mladic's image and the words: "Serbian Hero!"

In October, Serbia's leading human rights activist said the nation's intelligence agencies had "absolutely precise information" on Mladic's whereabouts and was tracking his movements.

That caused a stir and raised expectations that an arrest was imminent, but nine months later, he remains at large.

On several occasions, NATO-led peacekeepers were said to have come very close to his hideouts. But Mladic's entourage reportedly tipped him to the troops' presence ? and he always managed to slip away.


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