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Ratko Mladic arrest ends one of world's longest manhunts

Ratko Mladic's arrest, which has been hailed as a major step for Serbia toward EU membership, comes nearly 16 years after he was charged with war crimes.

By Andrew MacDowallCorrespondent, Correspondent / May 26, 2011

General Ratko Mladic (c.) arrives at Special Court in Belgrade, on May 26. He was arrested in Lazarevo in the early hours on Thursday.

Marko Djurica/Reuters

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Sofia, Bulgaria; and Berlin

The arrest of Europe’s most wanted man, alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic, has been hailed as a milestone in the quest to bring justice to the Western Balkans and in Serbia’s path to international rehabilitation.

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After 16 years on the run, Mr. Mladic was arrested in the village of Lazarevo, northern Serbia, bringing an end to one of history’s longest manhunts. With international backing, homes had been searched in Bosnia and Serbia, but Mladic – perhaps the single biggest villain of the war – always seemed to be a step ahead.

The arrest has been widely hailed as a huge success for Serbia and its Westward-leaning president, Boris Tadic. Mr. Tadic declared that the arrest had “closed one chapter of our recent history that will bring us one step closer to full reconciliation in the region” and that Serbia had “wiped the stain” away.

He added “that the doors for Serbia to joining the EU are open," clearly linking Belgrade’s success in tracking down Mladic to European Union accession. Serbia’s efforts to extradite indicted war criminals have long been a sticking point with Brussels and much of the rest of the international community.

European reaction

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, hosting the G8 summit in the French resort Deauville, called the arrest "a very courageous decision by the Serbian president. It is one more step towards Serbia's integration one day into the European Union."

The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, called the arrest “an important step forward for Serbia and for international justice.” Mr. Barroso went on to say that a quick transfer of Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague and further full cooperation with the court remained essential on Serbia’s path towards EU-membership.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who served as the EU’s Special Envoy to the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, told the BBC that Serbia’s EU prospects were “now brighter than ever."

Tadic's EU ambitions

“In the past the Serbian authorities were actively protecting Mladic,” says Marko Prelec, Balkans Project Director at the International Crisis Group, speaking from Dubrovnik, Croatia. “But under President Tadic, Serbia was maximally engaged in the search for Mladic. The arrest is a big success for Tadic, but it also has to be seen as a big success for the European Union, which kept the pressure on.”

“This gets a big item off the EU checklist,” says Kurt Bassuener, a Sarajevo-based policy analyst. “In order to move forward, Serbia had to swallow this bitter pill.”

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