News 15 May 07

Serbian Police Storm Military Building in Apparent Hunt for Mladic

Belgrade _ Serbia’s elite police units stormed Tuesday a military building in central Belgrade housing officers who fled Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo in 1999, eyewitnesses and deputies of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party, SRS, said.

During an ongoing parliamentary debate on the formation of Serbia’s new government, Aleksandar Vucic, the deputy head of the SRS, said that police had sought to arrest General Ratko Mladic, the Netherlands-based UN war crimes tribunal's most-wanted man, who is suspected of committing genocide during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia.

Vucic said that the squad were “arresting generals who defended our country," and alleged that “some defence minister has ordered the arrest of Ratko Mladic”.

His account could not be independently verified, but eyewitnesses interviewed by Balkan Insight living in a nearby building said that a number of policemen entered the premises.

Dragan Jocic, Serbia's Interior Minister said at the parliament's session that the "Military Intelligence Agency has undertaken a number of investigative and operational measures related with the war crimes. That action is over." He said that the Military Intelligence Agency "is expected to issue the statement." Jocic did not elaborate further.

Deputy Parliament speaker Milutin Mrkonjic has ordered a 10 minute recess to consult leaders of all parliamentary factions over the police operation.

Also on Tuesday, Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia’s chief war crimes prosecutor, said at a press conference that the search for Mladic "has not stopped for even a moment”, and that reporters will “soon be able to see that."

Last year, the European Union suspended talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia because of its government’s inability to capture Mladic. But a number of EU officials said last week that the bloc may resume the negotiations even without Mladic’s arrest.

In an apparently unrelated development on Tuesday, a fire broke out at Belgrade’s Central Prison, a maximum-security jail which holds war crimes suspects and men allegedly involved in the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic, who are awaiting a May 23 verdict on their part in the 2003 murder.

In a statement, Serbian police said that the fire engulfed an outer part of the prison compound, but that the situation was under control. There were no injuries.

The late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic also spent months jailed in the Central Prison, before being extradicted in 2001 to the UN war crimes tribunal's detention facility near The Hague, where he died last year.

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