Sunday

16th May 2021

Serbia arrests 'Bosnia butcher' Mladic

  • Ratko Mladic was indicted for war crimes 16 years ago (Photo: steffen42)

Bosnian Serb war general Ratko Mladic, charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and the killing of thousands of civilians in Srebrenica, was arrested on Thursday (26 May). The move is likely to boost the Serbian government's efforts to move further on the EU path.

Dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" for the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995 in which some 7,500 Muslim men and boys were executed under his command, Mladic was arrested some sixteen years after being charged in absentia by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague with genocide and crimes against humanity.

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His arrest will "close a painful chapter in our history," Serbian President Boris Tadic said Thursday in a hastily organised press conference in Belgrade.

He fiercely rejected any suggestions that the timing of the arrest was carefully orchestrated ahead of a visit of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a report by the ICC chief prosecutor slamming Belgrade for dragging its feet on the Mladic arrest. The arrest was "not calculated," he said.

EU officials immediately congratulated Serbia for the arrest. EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called it "great news" and said it will help Serbia come closer to the EU.

Foreign policy chief Ashton, just as she was due to arrive in Belgrade, welcomed the arrest and stressed the need for Mladic to be extradited to the Hague as soon as possible. "The families of the countless victims of Mladic deserve justice," she tweeted.

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose organisation is still involved in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, also "strongly welcomed" the news and the prospect of justice being done. "We remain committed to assisting the whole region on the way to Euro-Atlantic integration," he said in a statement.

On behalf of the European Parliament, which has a key role in assessing Serbia's progress towards EU membership, President Jerzy Buzek congratulated Serbian authorities and said the arrest is "gives new impetus to Serbia's EU accession process."

But he also recalled that another fugitive, Goran Hadzic, is still at large and that "all efforts should be made to arrest and bring him to justice."

As for Mladic, whose life in hiding was certainly facilitated by former and current Serbian military officials, a book published in 2004, "They would never hurt a fly" by Slavenka Drakulic, depicts him as a "powerful man, who kept Sarajevo under siege for three years, a city where his mother and friends used to live."

"Twelve thousand people were killed in Sarajevo before he withdrew his forces. Then he moved on to Goradze and Srebrenica."

A documentary from 11 July 1995 recorded by Serbian TV shows him in a room negotiating with UN Dutch commander Tom Karremans, after his troops had captured Srebrenica. "Mladic is barking at Karremans," Drakulic writes. "The documentary reveals him as an aggressive, narcissistic person, full of himself after having taken the Srebrenica enclave. But it also shows Mladic as a liar. He lies to Karremans in telling him that the Muslim population is not the aim of his action."

The mass execution of some 7,500 Muslim boys and men that followed sent shockwaves through the Western world, where it was seen as inconceivable that such atrocities could take place in Europe 50 years after the end of World War II.

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