Mladic: one man’s war criminal, another man’s hero

The British newspaper The Guardian has released an article claiming US troops had several opportunities to arrest Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic.

The paper quotes US historian Charles Ingrao, who says there was an order not to arrest the man for fear of triggering violence that might result in US casualties.

General Mladic has been wanted by the Hague Tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity since 1995.

Serbian society is torn apart by a dilemma. On the one hand, the new Serbian government is doing everything it can to join the European Union. Handing over Mladic is a key condition. On the other hand, for many Serbs, Mladic is not a war criminal but a hero.

“For many years Serbia’s relationship with The Hague was characterized by Serbia’s presumption it could maneuver its way around the condition of arresting Mladic,” explains Serbian military analyst Aleksander Radic. “This has been one of the greatest follies of the Serbian government because time has shown that the West won’t change its position. There is also a lot of interest inside Serbia among powerful people to protect Mladic.”

Many inside Serbia feel it is up to their courts to deal with their people.

Some look towards Israel and the case of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was also accused of war crimes by the Europeans during the 1982 Lebanon War. Unlike Serbia, however, Israel refused to hand him over.

The problem for those hunting him down is that Mladic could be anywhere: from Serbia itself to Republika Serbska in Bosnia, or even the monasteries in Greece.

Mladic still has a lot of supporters in the former Yugoslavia. Now, after the capture of Radovan Karadzic, fewer people want to see him face the same fate as his former comrade.

EU searches for Mladic

Unlike the US, the European Union has increased its efforts in finding Ratko Mladic in recent months.

EU peacekeepers, supported by NATO and Bosnian Serb police, raided a building in Bosnian city of Banja Luka on Thursday as part of the search for Bosnian Serb General, news agency Reuters reports.

Soldiers from Portugal, Hungary, Italy and Britain took part in the operation. They searched the house of Dusan Todic, who used to be one of Mladic’s military associates during the Bosnian war.

“We are looking for anything that can lead us to the arrest of Mladic, the CDs, mobile phones,” Pat O'Callaghan, a spokesman for the EU peace force EUFOR, said.

The members of Todic's family are said to have offered full assistance to the peacekeepers during the operation.