THE capture of Ratko Mladic was hailed yesterday as a boost for Serbia, for Europe and for the country’s hopes of joining the European Union.
But behind the widespread public acclaim were warnings that Serbia will have to do much more than just round up one of the world’s most wanted fugitives.
The capture of Mladic had become the focus of Serbia’s EU hopes, with Belgrade under immense pressure to deliver Mladic for trial.
As the years passed, suspicions grew that the authorities — or some members — knew where he was but were reluctant to give him up.
Even now, amid the welcoming sentiments from politicians across Europe, questions are being asked about the timing.
One EU insider said: “This is no coincidence.
“People knew where he was and it is only now that the Serbs’ bluff is being called over their determination to meet EU requirements to be considered as an accession candidate, that Mladic suddenly pops up, ready for delivery to the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague.”
The court’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, is due to deliver a report to the UN on June 6, slamming Serbia’s failure to track down suspected war criminals — described as the regime’s “most critical outstanding obligation”.
The report said Serbia’s efforts had not been sufficient and the failure to deliver Mladic had undermined the government’s credibility and its commitment to co-operate with the ICTY.
The report’s contents are crucial — its findings directly influence an EU decision expected later this year on whether Serbia should be granted formal “candidate status” to become a member.
To find Mladic soon after it was revealed that Serbia faced a damning report card in front of the UN in a matter of weeks is seen in Brussels as far too much of a coincidence.
One EU official said there was now the question of also finding Goran Hadzic, wanted in The Hague to face accusations of war crimes.
That still leaves the difficult issue of complying with the lengthy checklist of EU membership requirements that all applicant countries go through, from meeting basic human rights and the rule of law to tackling corruption.
“Serbia is going to face big hurdles dealing with organised crime, corruption and its judicial system said one Brussels enlargement negotiator.
“So, although this capture of Mladic is a big hurdle crossed, EU membership for Serbia is still not a done deal.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved