By Eric Jansson in Belgrade and Daniel Dombey in Brussels
Published: April 5 2005 03:00 | Last updated: April 5 2005 03:00
Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general wanted for war crimes, is hiding with the help of Serbian security services, according to Vuk Draskovic, foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro.
It is the first 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.
"It is only logical that the security services know where Mladic is. They know if he is in Serbia, and they know if he is not. They are paid to know," Mr Draskovic told the Financial Times. "Without that kind of protection, without that kind of network, it would be impossible for Mladic to be invisible," he added.
Mr Draskovic's statement undermines severely Belgrade's long-held claim that Serbian officials do not know Gen Mladic's whereabouts and therefore cannot arrest and extradite him for trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
The outspoken foreign minister is an uneasy ally of Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's conservative prime minister. He has often criticised Serbia for failing to co-operate fully with the tribunal.
But Mr Draskovic has sharpened his rhetoric as April 12 approaches, when the European Commission is due to make a key decision on Serbia's relationship to the European Union.
At stake is whether the Commission concludes that talks should begin on a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia - a way station to EU membership - or instead delays such a decision.
Commission officials say Serbia has until the end of this week to make more progress.
A key development came with yesterday's voluntary surrender of Sreten Lukic, a retired Serb general indicted for alleged crimes during the Kosovo war in 1999.
However, government officials in Belgrade said they had lost track of Nebojsa Pavkovic, the other retired general whose extradition European diplomats are looking for.
"I appreciate the positive move of General Lukic's transfer but at the same time we expect more work," said Olli Rehn, EU enlargement commissioner.
"It's important that the current emerging trend does not stop suddenly in mid-April," he added, signalling that Mr Mladic's transfer would be increasingly important with the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in July.
Mr Kostunica said six weeks ago that his government's recent successes in coercing Serbs indicted of war crimes to surrender would "end with the complete list", including Gen Mladic being handed over to the tribunal.
Mr Draskovic said Mr Kostunica was not going far enough. "If I were the prime minister, I would call the head of state security before me and ask him where Mladic is. If he said 'I don't know' I would fire him then and there."
Mr Draskovic said Serbian security services could arrest Mr Mladic "today, and he should have been arrested yesterday". He did not say whether he believed Serb intelligence also knew the whereabouts of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader, who alongside Gen Mladic is the other top Bosnian Serb wanted for war crimes.