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Fugitive Mladic ‘negotiating his surrender’

BOSNIAN Serb war crimes fugitive General Ratko Mladic has been located and was last night negotiating his surrender, according to Serbian security officials.

However, a senior figure close to the operation to arrest Mladic said the alleged war criminal had not been arrested.

State news agency Tanjug, quoting Bosnian Serb BN television, reported Mladic was arrested and was "being transported" to the US-run air force base in Tuzla in eastern Bosnia. Mladic was to be flown to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the report added.

The private Beta news agency said Mladic was found on Cer Mountain, 60 miles west of Belgrade.

But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s spokesman Srdjan Djuric said Mladic had not been arrested. He called the report a "manipulation" to derail the government’s efforts to detain the wartime Bosnian Serb army commander.

Serbia is under pressure from the EU and the US to capture Mladic, who has been charged by the war crimes tribunal of genocide for his troops’ massacre of 8,000 Muslim boys and men in Srebrenica and for the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo.

EU officials had given Serbia until the end of February to hand Mladic over to The Hague, and threatened to freeze EU membership talks otherwise.

But officials at the EU and The Hague last night said they had no information about his reported arrest.

"We have no information that something particular has happened today," said the Yugoslav tribunal’s spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann.

She repeated assertions by Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte that Mladic is in Serbia and "in the immediate reach of the authorities".

"We have said for the last 10 days that the arrest could take place quickly," she said.

Yesterday morning, senior Kostunica aide Vladeta Jankovic had predicted Mladic would be captured "soon". He added: "Those who are searching have all means and are in full swing."

However, Jankovic yesterday said that he had no information on whether Mladic’s hiding place had been located or whether the government was involved in any negotiations for his surrender.

Mladic is number two on the tribunal’s most-wanted list after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large.

Mladic, who is in his 60s, has a $5-million US bounty on his head. He was known to have made daring forays into Belgrade in recent years to watch football matches.

Under an indictment amended in October 2002, the UN war crimes tribunal charged Mladic with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.