by Jamie Maxwell
Ratko Mladic, the former Serbian general accused of coordinating the murder of 7500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995, was captured yesterday by Serbian authorities and is now awaiting extradition to the Hague.
He was discovered hiding in a farm house in Lazarevo, a small town in the central Banat district of the country. Reports suggest a network of ultra-nationalist groups had been sheltering him for a number of years.
Mladic, now 68, became overall commander of the Bosnian-Serb military in May 1992, as the break-out of ethnic conflict in the Balkans gathered pace following the disintegration of Yugoslav Republic. He immediately assumed control of the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which lasted until 1995, and began employing tactics – including cutting off supply lines for humanitarian aid and indiscriminately shelling civilian areas – widely considered to have been in direct contravention of international charters governing warfare. It is estimated that as many as ten thousand Bosnians died during the stand-off.
Mladic’s reputation as a killer and genocidaire was secured in 1995 when, after having established military rule over Srebrenica, he ordered the men and boys of the town to be separated from the women, incarcerated in concentration camps and then systematically butchered. The resulting bloodshed was the worst on European soil since the Second World War.
Following the death of ex-Serb president Slobodan Milosevic in 2006 and the detention of another ex-president Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Mladic’s arrest removes the final obstacle to Serbia’s entry into the European Union. Britain had been blocking Serbian integration in order to force it to intensify efforts to bring those thought to have committed atrocities during the 1990s into custody.
Welcoming the news President Obama, who is currently on a state visit to Europe, said, “On this important day, we recommit ourselves to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and to working to prevent future atrocities”.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon added, “This arrest marks an important step in our collective fight against impunity. This is an historic day for international justice. I commend the efforts of Serb President Tadic and of the Serbian government.”
Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, also commented, “This is great news. I was exactly one week ago in Belgrade. I had an extensive, very deep, sincere conversation with President Tadic and he promised me that he would do everything to arrest Mladic.”
However, the picture is not completely black and white. Although the image of Mladic being prosecuted for war crimes in the International Criminal Court will play well with European and international opinion, it may not be met with the same enthusiasm in Serbia. Current Serbian President Boris Tadic has been struggling with a groundswell of nationalist discontent since Kosovo unilaterally declared its independence three years ago.