The Hunt for War Criminal Mladic
For the Many in the Former Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic, Not Radovan Karadzic, Is the Catch
BELGRADE, Serbia, July 24, 2008
On July 11, 1995, hours after the Bosnian town of Srebrenica – a “UN safe haven” – wound up being overrun by Bosnian Serb forces, General Ratko Mladic was on camera, handing out sweets to Muslim children rounded up in the town's main square. Mladic, patting one child on the head, consoled them that all would be fine.
(Oleg Stjepanovic/AP Photo)
That sinister image is forever imprinted in the minds of Srebrenica survivors. Hours later he ordered their brothers and fathers to be slaughtered in Europe's worst instance of genocide since World War II.
For many witnesses and victims of the bloody wars in the former Yugoslavia, Mladic, rather than former President Slobodan Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested this week, is the big catch.
“To me, the most criminal is Mladic,” said Haira Capic, a mother who lost a 26-year-old son and a husband in Srebrenica.
“It would gives us comfort, if he was arrested and extradited to the Hague. We must continue to carry the burden of the children we lost,” insisted Capic. “Only half of the evil duo has been caught. Once Mladic as well as Karadzic is behind bars in the Hague, then the healing can truly begin.”
Karadzic's recent arrest will encourage the Serbian government to step up its hunt for the war criminal Mladic.
Dusan Ignjatovic, director of the Tribunal's Office of the National Council for Cooperation, said that Serbia has the political will to capture both Mladic and another fugitive, Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb leader during the war.
“We have shown that nobody was protected and that it is a matter of days before Mladic and Hadzic will be at the tribunal,” Ignjatovic told ABCNews.com.
Security expert Zoran Dragisic also thinks that Serbian authorities are on the road toward eventually capturing Mladic. “The Karadzic arrest happened while secret police were looking for Mladic. State authorities must have information about Mladic. The belt around Mladic is tightening and I am sure he will be arrested soon,” he said.
But it might not be so easy.
“Karadzic was seen as a comic figure in Serbia, while Mladic is considered a hero and a defender of Serbs,” said James Lyon of the International Crisis Group (ICG).
A survey published several years ago in Belgrade showed that 75 percent of Serbs interviewed in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia would not turn Mladic in if they met him in the street, while 50 percent said they would help him evade arrest.
Mladic, who had an army pension from Belgrade until the end of 2005, is believed to be enjoying the protection of hard-line officers inside Serbia.
These are the same Serbian military and secret service men who helped Mladic disappear after Milosevic's defeat in October 2000. He continues to depend on supporters, especially among Serbs in Bosnia.
Posters in support of top war crimes suspects Karadzic and Mladic appeared in Bosnia's eastern town of Visegrad on Wednesday night. They show photos of the two men, with slogans: “Our Serbian heroes”, “General, we won't let them catch you” and “We are all your fellows.”
Mladic was indicted in 1995 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on 15 counts, including genocide – for orchestrating the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men, women and children in Srebrenica in July 1995 – and violation of the rules of war for his responsibility in the bombing of Sarajevo.
Mladic, 66, was born in the village of Kalinovik in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His father was killed by Croat Nazis when he was 2.
He graduated from Yugoslavia's military academy in 1965 and joined the Yugoslav Communist Party that same year.
In the early 1990s, he was assigned to the Knin garrison, where the first assaults by Croatian Serbs against the Yugoslav Federation were taking place. After the 1992 ceasefire, he was made head of the Bosnian Serb army and organized the siege of Sarajevo.
The Serbian government has been close to arresting Mladic on several occasions but he evaded capture every time, leaving authorities baffled.
The ICG's Lyon said there must be continued support and pressure for his arrest. “Over the years Serbia has always said, There are no war crime indictees in Serbia, and yet they keep coughing them up in fits and starts, depending on political expediency,” he said.
“So, it's very clear – Mladic is in Serbia, he can be arrested by the Serbian authorities, provided there's the political will,” Lyon added, “We need to say, Let's get it over with. There are only two more left.”