War crimes suspects 'will be caught'

A top Serbia-Montenegro official expressed confidence today that searches for fugitive war crimes suspects will lead to their capture and extradition to the UN war crimes court.

“I am convinced more than ever that the ongoing efforts will be fruitful,” said Rasim Ljajic, the head of Serbia-Montenegro’s agency for cooperation with the UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

The country remains under intense Western pressure to extradite several suspects indicted in connection with the 1990s Balkan wars, primarily Bosnian Serb wartime commander, Gen Ratko Mladic.

“There is political will here to improve our cooperation (with The Hague court), including in the field of arresting and extraditing the suspects,” said Ljajic whose country risks being isolated by the European Union and Nato if the indicted men remain at large.

The government says it cannot locate Mladic, but chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has accused the country’s military of harbouring the suspect, who is wanted for alleged genocide in Bosnia.

Del Ponte is to visit Belgrade next week and push for Mladic’s arrest.

The government recently accepted one of her demands, granting her investigators full access to state archives that may contain evidence about war crimes.

“We have made the very important decision to open up our archives,” Ljajic said. “I am convinced that will help restore the international community’s confidence” in Belgrade’s proclaimed resolve to help punish those responsible for the 1990s atrocities.

Yesterday, a top defence body issued a report acknowledging that a number of retired army officers helped Mladic hide until 2002. Since early 2003, it added, 27 searches for the elusive general have been conducted across the country, without success.

Last week, authorities detained former Mladic aide, Jovo Djogo, on suspicion he had helped the fugitive dodge arrest.

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