Mladic still in Serbia, says Del Ponte

Top Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect General Ratko Mladic is in Serbia, but he “remains at large,” chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said today.

She said Serbian officials told her no negotiations were underway for his surrender.

Her comments came amid conflicting reports that led to confusion over the fate of Mladic, indicted for genocide for his role in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.

“The false rumours spread yesterday from Belgrade about the arrest of Mladic have absolutely no basis whatsoever,” Del Ponte said.

“There is no indication at all that negotiations about his surrender are currently being conducted. I was in contact with the authorities in Belgrade yesterday and I was assured that there is no truth in all this. Mladic remains at large,” she told reporters at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

Security officials in Belgrade have said Serbian authorities are negotiating Mladic’s surrender, while the government denied reports he had been arrested.

There have been numerous incorrect reports in the past that Mladic was captured.

Del Ponte urged the European Union to increase pressure on Belgrade, suggesting it refuse to sign a co-operation agreement that is a stepping stone to eventual membership for Serbia until Mladic is handed over.

The EU plans to complete the talks on the deal this year.

“I need now a stronger support of the European Union to have Mladic in The Hague very soon. Clear deadlines with clear sanctions will produce early results,” Del Ponte said.

EU foreign ministers are to discuss relations with Serbia next Monday with EU Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn who visited Belgrade last week.

He made clear that signing the co-operation deal will depend on Serbia’s “full co-operation with the war crimes tribunal,” but set no deadline for Mladic’s extradition.

Belgrade sent a dozen war crimes suspects to The Hague in late 2004 and early 2005.

“Since then, however, the situation has clearly deteriorated,” said one EU diplomat, who asked not to be named given the sensitive nature of the extradition issue in EU-Serbian relations.

Del Ponte also reiterated her frequent calls for Serbia to arrest Mladic, repeating her long-held view that the former general is in Serbia enjoying the protection of the authorities there.

“Ratko Mladic is in Serbia,” she said, reading from a prepared one-page statement.

“There is no doubt about this. He has been there since 1998. During all this time he has been and remains within reach of the Serbian authorities.”

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