RATKO Mladic, the Serbian warlord wanted for the massacre of 7000 captured Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995, is being sheltered and protected by senior officers in the Serb army, a former bodyguard has claimed.
Miroslav Petrovic, a sergeant who deserted in November and surrendered to US forces in Kosovo, says Mladic spent several months last year at the Topcider barracks, near Belgrade, while the high command debated improvements to his personal security.
Mladic was the commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the 1991-1995 civil wars in the former Yugoslavia. He is the second most-wanted fugitive of the UN war crimes tribunal after Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader during the conf lict.
Both men have eluded capture for 10 years despite repeated attempts by Nato forces to bring them to justice.
Petrovic claims Mladic, who remains a hero in Serb military circles, has three rings of security and moves between Serbia and Bosnia to avoid arrest.
Mladic ordered the capture of Srebrenica, a UN-declared safe haven, in 1995, before his troops slaughtered thousands of Muslim men and boys.
Petrovic also claims two Serb conscripts were executed on the spot in October when they accidentally caught sight of Mladic at Topcider. An army investigation dismissed their deaths as "murder and suicide".
Serbia is under intense pressure to hand over suspects as a precondition to EU membership talks, but an officers' clique is defying the politicians.
Vuk Draskovic, Serbia's foreign minister, accuses the military of harbouring Mladic.
Karadzic, too, is believed to be under the protection of loyalists in Bosnia and Montenegro, moving every few days between safe houses and monasteries in the mountains.
The tribunal has convicted 48 Balkan war criminals, with 46 on trial or awaiting proceedings and 19 who have been indicted but are still at large.