By Reuters Tuesday February 21 2006. 5.18pm
Top Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic has been arrested, the official Serbian news agency Tanjug on Tuesday quoted a local television station in Bosnia’s Serb Republic as saying.
It said TV BN reported that the wartime Bosnian Serb Army commander had been taken into custody in the Serbian capital Belgrade and was being transferred via the northeast Bosnia city of Tuzla to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
There was no official confirmation of the report.
An earlier report by Belgrade’s “Studio B” television said Mladic had been located “in the area of Tuzla”, which lies close to the mountainous border with Serbia.
Madic was indicted in 1995 for genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo which claimed 12,000 lives and for orchestrating the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.
Serbian newspapers were full of speculation on Tuesday that Mladic could soon be on a plane to The Hague, in time to avert suspension of European Union association talks with Belgrade.
Reports spoke of intense efforts by Belgrade to deliver the 63-year-old general to the United Nations court before the end of February, either by arresting him or negotiating a surrender.
This is the deadline for a report by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn to the 25 EU foreign ministers assessing whether Serbia is cooperating fully with the U.N. tribunal.
Vladeta Jankovic, adviser to Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said efforts to find Mladic were “in full swing”. He said he had no information Mladic had been found and denied the prime minister had promised a deadline for a handover.
“The government is aware of the consequences,” he told B92 radio. “It might be a decisive moment, not only for the survival of the government, but for the future prospects of the state.”
Mladic’s handover was “almost a condition of survival”.
Belgrade is desperate to avoid suspension of Stabilisation and Association pact talks begun last year. They are the first step to eventual EU membership -- Serbia’s top priority -- and Brussels has warned they will stop if Mladic is not arrested.
Reports predicting his imminent arrest or detailing official efforts to track him down intensify each time Serbia faces a Western deadline for action, although Serbia constantly protests that it has no evidence he is even in the country.
On Tuesday, the daily Blic quoted former state security chief Goran Petrovic as saying the state was giving former Bosnian Serb Army commander Mladic ten more days to surrender.
“Talks on Mladic’s surrender are in their final phase. About 10 days are left for his handover and they are now looking for an appropriate scenario for his surrender,” Petrovic said. He said the authorities were in constant contact with Mladic.
He lived openly in Belgrade until the fall of nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 undermined his support. Chief tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has repeatedly charged that he is still protected by hardline elements in the Army and security agencies of Serbia.
Serbian Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic said it would be a good time to extradite Mladic, who is still regarded as a hero-soldier by staunch nationalists opposed to his arrest.
“The latest polls show 57 percent of citizens are in favour of this option. This is the largest percentage so far, much higher than in 2005 let alone 2004, “ Ljajic said.