Deadlines and demands set by the European Union have failed to force Serbia to turn over custody of the Bosnian-Serb general, Ratko Mladic, indicted for crimes against humanity for his role leading Serb forces in the Bosnian War during the 1990s. Belgrade's failure to turn over Europe's most wanted fugitive has led to a breakdown in talks on improving ties between Brussels and Belgrade, a harshly worded EU statement against Serbia, and the abrupt resignation of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's deputy (LAT). Kostunica claims his government has tried to force Mladic to surrender. Yet news reports suggest that elements within Serbia's government and military are secretly protecting Mladic and refusing to hand their war hero over to The Hague (RFE/RL). The specter of Serbian nationalism, explained in this U.S. Institute of Peace report, has cast a shadow on the country's efforts to join the EU.
Mladic led Bosnian Serb military forces when that former Yugoslav republic broke from Belgrade and fell into ethnic war. Mladic faces charges for atrocities committed during the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of nearly 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995. Even today Yugoslavia's disintigration continues, with Montenegro using the Mladic row to distance itself from Belgrade (EU Observer) in the run-up to a May 21 referendum on independence from Serbia.
Mladic's ability to evade capture embarrassed NATO, which has faced criticisms for feeble attempts to locate Mladic due to fears of unsettling the delicate peace agreements holding ethnic tensions at bay in Bosnia, Kosovo, and other parts of former Yugoslavia. Along with Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb political leader, he defied capture for over a decade. Just last month, NATO's Secretary General vowed to put both behind bars by the end of 2006.
Mladic and Karadzic are both wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), an ad hoc UN body created after the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. The tribunal has indicted and apprehended numerous Serb, Croat, and Bosnian Muslim figures for war crimes, including former Croat general Ante Gotovina, who was captured last December. Yet the ICTY was dealt a setback in March after former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in captivity from heart failures.
Trials targeting world leaders for war crimes or human rights abuses remain unusual. Some of the more notorious cases are chronicled in this CFR Background Q&A. Another Q&A examines the place of the new International Court of Justice, created partly in response to the carnage in Yugoslavia and Rwanda as a deterrent to such future horrors.