Phil Cain in Graz, Austria -
Serbian security services this morning arrested fugitive Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, who has evaded genocide charges for 15 years, so removing the biggest obstacle to Serbia's EU entry.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague accuses Mladic of presiding over the massacre of 7,800 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995. He also faces charges relating to a three-and-a-half year siege of Bosnian capital Sarajevo in which 10,000 people were killed or went missing. "This removes a heavy burden from Serbia and closes a page of our unfortunate history," Serbian President Boris Tadic told a press conference called to confirm the arrest. He said extradition to The Hague is underway.
The arrest is a boost to Serbia's hopes of gaining EU candidate status in the autumn. Tim Ash, head of emerging markets research at Royal Bank of Scotland, calls the the arrest "very good news for serbia" and should improve the country's compliance with the ICTY and help push forward its EU accession bid.
The European Commission said it had "all reason to believe" it could be Mladic, but is waiting for confirmation that the arrested man's identity before making a definitive statement. A DNA test is expected to take three days.
Mladic was sent into retirement three months after the Srebrenica massacre, after which sightings of him became less-and-less frequent until, in recent years, he became a full-time fugitive. The Serbian authorities have long said they could not find him, something the international community doubted. "Serbia can do more and must do more" to arrest Mladic, said Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor for the ICTY earlier this month. Its efforts had "not been sufficient."
Serbia is awaiting the findings of Brammetz's report into Serbia's efforts to arrest alleged war criminals, which will form the basis of a report on Serbia's cooperation to be presented before the UN Security Council in June. Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb President during the Sarajevo siege and Sarajevo massacre, is currently in The Hague after being captured in Belgrade living under false papers in July 2008. Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb, is the only remaining fugitive from The Hague thought to be within Serbia's reach. He is accused of persecuting Croats living in the Serb-controlled areas of Croatia in 1991 and 1992.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, also during a visit to Serbia earlier in May, said Serbia had to step up its efforts if it wants to join the EU. "Time is running out and the key is in the hands of Serbia. The criteria must be met, the judicial reform, fight against organised crime and corruption to attain the goal," Barroso was quoted by newswires as saying. "Of key importance is cooperation with The Hague Tribunal and we expect that Serbia will do everything it can with respect to this."
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