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Hiding, or just trying to strike the best deal?

Why did the former Serb leader who professed to prefer the instant justice of a bullet to the humiliation of The Hague come so quietly? Why was he protected only by one elderly cousin, rather than do-or-die bodyguards?

The remarkable answer, according to Western intelligence sources, is that far from being a bin Laden-style raid, Mladic's arrest was entirely staged -- the result of negotiations by diplomats who spent a whole year hammering out a deal to get him to surrender.

The deal was sealed by appealing to the Serb's one known soft spot -- his family.

Being told that they would be looked after properly if he gave himself up proved key.

"The negotiations about his surrender lasted slightly more than a year, with mainly French, British and German officials involved," said one Western diplomat, who asked not to be named.

"The Serbs took responsibility to work things out with him, and guaranteed that his family would be taken care of, and that he would eventually get a decent burial.

"After all, it's better for him to go as a martyr to The Hague than die in some shabby military barracks or wolf-lair in Serbia. There was no hunt operation."

Sunday Independent