Watershed for Serbia as door to EU now open
Published 27/05/2011 | 05:00
THE arrest of Ratko Mladic, the last of the three Serbian leaders wanted for war crimes and genocide in Bosnia, has closed a dark chapter in Serbia's history and opened the door to EU membership, the country's president has said.
Boris Tadic hailed the moment as a watershed for Serbia that would usher in a time when the Balkan nation could emerge from the shadows of the war and genocide it unleashed after the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
"A difficult period of our history is over and Serbia's reputation is no longer tarnished," he said.
"I believe that this operation has proved that the services of the Republic of Serbia have made this country safe and have secured the rule of law, and that our work on the search for war crime suspects will increase Serbia's moral credibility in the international arena. I believe all doors to our EU membership have been opened now."
General Mladic (69) was the final major Serb fugitive, charged with 11 counts of war crimes and wanted for his role as Bosnian Serb military commander in the war that brought genocide back to Europe for the first time since the Nazi era.
The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (65), currently on trial in The Hague, was caught -- disguised by a full beard and working as a faith healer -- on a Belgrade bus in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
He and Mladic are indicted as the "supreme commanders" of an ethnic cleansing campaign of Croats and Muslims, including the Srebrenica massacre. According to the UN charge sheet, they participated in a "joint criminal enterprise to permanently remove Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants from the territories of Bosnia Hercegovina claimed as Bosnian Serb territory".
They are alleged to have worked with Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president, in pursuit of a Greater Serbia which was to include 60pc of the territory of Bosnia.
Milosevic died of a heart attack in The Hague aged 64, midway through his own UN trial for genocide in March 2006.
Mladic's capture means Serbia has taken a big step towards EU membership amid lingering suspicions that the Bosnian Serb general was being sheltered and protected from arrest by elements of the Serbian state.
Praise for the Serbian action, which came after Serbia was criticised by UN prosecutors for not doing enough to catch Mladic, has echoed around Europe.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy singled out Mr Tadic as the prime mover in ending the 16-year manhunt.
"It's very good news and it's a very courageous decision by the Serbian president," he said. "It's one more step towards Serbia's integration one day into the EU."
But the reaction of hardline Serb nationalists showed the battle for the Balkan country's soul will continue.
"This shameful arrest of a Serb general is a blow to our national interests and the state," Boris Aleksic, a spokesman for the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party said. "This is a regime of liars." (© Daily Telegraph, London)