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EU pushes for justice in Serbia

A new urgency hangs over the arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic as EU issues a Monday deadline.

By Beth KampschrorCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 24, 2006


As European Union leaders intensified threats this week to suspend membership negotiations with Serbia over its failure to arrest top crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, rumors spread that the Balkan country had pinned down the former general and would soon have him in custody.

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If Serbia does apprehend Mr. Mladic in the coming days, it could save its bid for EU membership ahead of a key EU meeting Monday that will address the issue.

But more important, the timing of such an arrest would provide the most significant validation yet that the carrot of EU membership - and the consequent pressure on Balkan leaders - has been critical to the success of the war crimes tribunal.

"If it hadn't been for that pressure, nothing would have been done," says James Lyon, a Belgrade-based analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Indeed, as the EU dangled the possibility of an EU membership feasibility study in front of Serbia last year, the country handed over about a dozen fugitive suspects, through voluntary surrenders or other deals.

And Croatia just overcame its last hurdle with the arrest of its last fugitive general in December, and is now the only western Balkan country that can expect full membership before 2010.

Progress for international justice

Since the Yugoslav tribunal was established in 1993 by the United Nations, it has indicted 161 individuals, including former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. The tribunal is the first international war crimes court since the trial of Nazi leaders in Nuremberg, marking a significant development in international justice.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte said Wednesday - a day after unconfirmed reports of Mladic's arrest surfaced in Bosnian and Serbian media - that the role of the EU was particularly crucial at this moment.

"I need now a strong support of the EU to have Mladic in The Hague, very, very soon," said Ms. del Ponte. "Clear deadlines associated with clear sanctions will produce early results."

Her request may be met Monday when the EU's council of ministers meet to decide whether to suspend membership negotiations with Serbia over Mladic and four other Serbian suspects wanted by the tribunal in The Hague.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Thursday that talks indeed would be suspended if Serbia did not cooperate fully in finding Mladic. And an EU source in Belgrade said that "there is pressure from the powerful member states to sanction the noncooperation - out of the 25 [EU states], it's probably 20."

Mladic a fugitive for a decade

Mladic has been at large since being indicted in 1995 for genocide over the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims after his troops overran the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Though Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia signed the US-brokered peace agreement in Dayton, Ohio, later that year and pledged to bring in indicted war crimes suspects, Mladic and others remained free - in spite of the 60,000 heavily-armed NATO peacekeeping troops in Bosnia at the time.

NATO troops - including 20,000 Americans - were under orders from their own countries, and those countries had no desire to make arrests.