By Eric Jansson in Belgrade
Published: April 6 2005 03:00 | Last updated: April 6 2005 03:00
Rade Bulatovic, chief of Serbia's intelligence agency, the BIA, has sternly rebuked the country's foreign minister for claiming that a top Bosnian Serb war crimes indictee is hiding with the help of Serbian security services.
Mr Bulatovic described as "ridiculous" the allegation made by Vuk Draskovic, the foreign minister, in an interview with the Financial Times, published yesterday, that Serbia's security services know the whereabouts of Ratko Mladic and possess the ability to arrest him "today".
Mr Draskovic's comments were the first such admission by a senior Serbian official since General Mladic, who is wanted on an international warrant, went into hiding after the Bosnian war a decade ago. "This is a very serious accusation, but it is not based on any evidence. The evidence shows the contrary, absolutely," Mr Bulatovic said.
The public clash between a senior minister and Serbia's intelligence chief comes at an awkward moment for Serbia and Montenegro. The European Commission meets on Tuesday to decide if Serbia and Montenegro may begin negotiations on a stabilisation and association agreement, an initial step on the way to EU accession.
The outspoken foreign minister openly describes himself as "not on the BIA's side" and suggested that Mr Bulatovic should be sacked.
But Mr Bulatovic is a close associate of Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's prime minister. He accused Mr Draskovic of speaking irresponsibly about a matter of national security in order to score points in a turf war between Serbia's reformers. "The reason for his statements can be found in our domestic politics," the intelligence chief said.
Mr Draskovic is an outspoken critic of Mr Kostunica's policy on war criminals, which rules out arresting war crimes indictees. Instead, dangling promises of state legal and financial aid, the government has persuaded 13 Serb indictees since October to surrender voluntarily to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague.
Mr Bulatovic described the BIA as a primary force "behind this successful policy", deserving of credit rather than accusations.