BELGRADE (Reuters) – Ratko Mladic, the fugitive Bosnian Serb general wanted for genocide by the U.N. tribunal, is most likely hiding in Serbia, Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Serb authorities say Mladic is not in Serbia, otherwise he would have been arrested. However, Vukcevic told the newspaper Blic in an interview that the fugitive military chief, seen as a hero by hardline nationalists in the country, was within reach.
Referring to meeting on Monday with U.N. chief war crimes proseuctor Carla del Ponte in Belgrade, Vukcevic said: “I told the prosecutor that we assume Mladic is in Serbia.”
Serbia’s path to closer ties with the European Union is blocked by its failure to arrest four war crimes suspects, including Mladic, indicted for their role in brutal wars in Bosnia and Croatia in the 1990s.
Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the U.N. tribunal in the Hague, has asked the EU not to sign a key accord with Serbia until the fugitives are brought to justice.
“The fact that he’s hiding well disturbs our search,” Vukcevic said. “But I can for sure say that the network of his supporters is getting smaller.”
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb former police chief Stojan Zupljanin and Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb leader, are also under indictments by the Hague court and remain on the run.
They were hiding either in Serbia or “in the region between Serbia, the Serb half of Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo”, Vukcevic said. “At this moment we don’t know where they are.”
Vukcevic said Karadzic had been in Belgrade in 2004.
“I can’t say why he was not arrested,” he added.
Vukcevic said his team had been trying this year to negotiate with Zupljanin and Hadzic and arrange a surrender.
“We were in contact with them through mediators, trying to negotiate surrender,” he said. But the negotiations failed, and locating the fugitives to arrest them proved impossible.
In Bosnia, members of the EU peacekeeping force EUFOR raided the home of a suspected supporter of Karadzic on Thursday.
EUFOR spokesman David Fielder told Reuters security forces, supported by NATO and local police, were looking for any association between Savicic and Karadzic.
EUFOR seized documents for analysis and police removed ammunition from Savicic’s premises in Sokolac, about 12 miles southeast of the capital, Sarajevo, he said.
The homes of alleged Karadzic supporters have been raided dozens of times in the 12 years that the former Bosnian Serb leader has been on the run.