Global Policy Forum

Mladic and Karadzic in the Spotlight


By Nerma Jelacic *

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network
March 15, 2006

They top the tribunal's most wanted list but some are becoming ever more convinced that they shouldn't be sent to The Hague.

Serbia's willingness to cooperate with the Hague tribunal by handing over indictees who remain on the run is again under scrutiny following the death of Slobodan Milosevic. Uppermost on the minds of analysts and tribunal watchers is the fate of the former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and army chief General Ratko Mladic.

The tribunal this week vowed to carry on bringing suspected war criminals to justice - especially Milosevic's right-hand men Karadzic and Mladic, who have been on the run for more than ten years now. The tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and European Union officials have made it clear that despite Milosevic's death, both men must still be taken into custody. "The two issues [the death of Milosevic and the arrest of Mladic and Karadzic] are not connected. We expect full cooperation," Florence Hartman, spokesperson for the Hague prosecutor told Balkan Insight.

Government officials in Bosnia's smaller entity, the Republic of Srpska, RS, and in Serbia and Montenegro insist that cooperation with The Hague will not be affected by the death of the former president. But some in RS and Serbia - who are now angrier than ever with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY - are openly arguing that Karadzic and Mladic should not be handed over. "The Hague is dead for all Serbian people. No deals should be made with the murderers," said Milutin Mrkonjic of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS, calling on Mladic not to give himself up.

With Milosevic gone, Karadzic and Mladic remain the ICTY's highest-ranking officials accused of war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Nineties. While international agencies and the ICTY's prosecution insist that Mladic is currently in Serbia - a fact that Serbian government has not denied - the whereabouts of Karadzic are less certain. The international community has made it clear that it holds the Serbian government responsible for the arrest of Mladic. The duty to arrest Karadzic, however, is currently shared between the authorities of the RS and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Serbia and Montenegro - reflecting the lack of precise information about his current residence.

After years of inactivity on the issue of Mladic, the Serbian government appeared to be taking the matter more seriously in the past few months. This was prompted by the EU, which told Belgrade it must transfer Mladic to The Hague if it wanted to start integration talks. "Mladic is within the reach of the government in Belgrade and we cannot wait anymore for him to surrender himself. It is obvious now that he will never surrender. So he must be arrested," Hartman told Balkan Insight.

But some analysts in Belgrade argue that it would be unrealistic to expect the authorities to arrest Mladic so soon after Milosevic's death. The more Milosevic is portrayed as a martyr in the eyes of Serbs, they say, the more unlikely are they to give up Mladic. The government of Vojislav Kostunica could pay dearly for the extradition of war crimes suspects, as some in the media stir anti-Hague feelings and public opinion about extradition of Mladic sways.

Mira, a housewife from Belgrade, said Mladic should not be extradited to the Hague. "Why should they give themselves up to stay ten years in The Hague without trial. What is the use?" she said.

Such arguments, however, carry little weight with the tribunal. "The death [of Milosevic] cannot be an excuse for lack of cooperation," said Hartman. "Milosevic's death means he has evaded a judgement but it cannot be used to evade somebody else's responsibility towards the tribunal nor can it have any effect on current processes in front of the tribunal," she added. "If somebody wants to manipulate with Milosevic's death regarding cooperation, than it is a completely different matter," said Hartman. "Elections, minority government...there have been many similar arguments before."

Should Belgrade fail to hand over Mladic by the EU-set deadline of April 5 the country would be exposed to possible sanctions. Belgrade has reiterated its readiness to cooperate with the tribunal on all remaining matters. Similarly, the authorities in the RS have repeated that they will "continue" working to fulfill their obligations towards the ICTY, despite the growing anti-Hague feelings there.

Dragan Cavic, president of the RS and leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, said the death of Milosevic cannot have any bearing on the arrest of remaining Hague indictees. "I would like to remind you that a number of annexes of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which Milosevic himself signed, clearly state the obligation of BiH, which means RS as well, to cooperate with the Hague tribunal," said Cavic. "At no moment should this be ignored."

The new premier of the RS and leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, Milorad Dodik, refused to comment on the impact of Milosevic's death on the cooperation of the RS with ICTY. But the vice-president of his party, Krstan Simic, said that the death of Milosevic could "impact possible decision of Karadzic and Mladic to hand themselves over to the ICTY, if they ever thought about it." However, he added, the RS still has an obligation to continue its cooperation.

Still previous actions of RS politicians which were anything but cooperative with the ICTY mean that many are unwilling to take their words at face value and will opt to wait and see concrete actions on the matter of remaining indictees.

About the Author: Nerma Jelacic is the director of BIRN Bosnia and Herzegovina. Gordana Katana, a Balkan Insight correspondent in Banja Luka, and Dragana Nikolic Solomon, BIRN's director in Serbia and Montenegro, contributed to this report. Balkan Insight is BIRN's internet publication.

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