Profiles 18 Nov 10

War Criminal Hunters Remain Empty-Handed

The team assembled to track down Serbia’s two most wanted fugitives, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, have little to show for their efforts – and the Hague tribunal is losing patience.

By Bojana Barlovac

Chief UN War Crimes Prosecutor Serge Brammertz in Belgrade and Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor Vladimir VukcevicFrustrated by the slow pace of its EU aspirations, four years ago, in July 2006, Serbia adopted an action plan to help the country meet its goal of full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Brussels insists that the Hague court must first declare Belgrade has fully cooperated with it before the Balkan country can advance its plans to join the European Union.

The new action strategy comprised a set of measures intended to lead to the location, arrest and extradition of The Hague’s remaining Serbian indictees.

These were the wartime Bosnian commander Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, and the wartime leader of the Croatian Serbs, Goran Hadzic.  

At the time, EU officials praised the move, saying they hoped Serbia’s detective work would become more efficient from now on.

A politician, Rasim Ljajic, and Serbia’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, were named team coordinators, tasked with receiving information from all relevant bodies on plans to nab the indictees.

The rest of the team comprised the head of the BIA intelligence agency, Rade Bulatovic, the interior minister, Dragan Jocic, the military intelligence chief, Svetko Kovac, and the head of the president’s cabinet, Miodrag Rakic.

The action team thus became the main point of liaison in Serbia for the ICTY, which previously dealt with various government departments and had received, so it claimed, contradictory information.

Ljajic has repeated frequently that until the fugitives are in the dock in The Hague, “Serbia is the only being damaged, in every sense”.

After a new, more pro-EU, government took office in 2008, the search for the fugitives stepped up. Two members of the Action Team were changed - the head of the BIA and the interior minister.  

Initially, the hunt was crowned with success, after police in Belgrade arrested Karadzic on July 21, 2008. He was extradited to the Hague nine days later and is now on trial.

But since then the trail has gone cold, increasing the difficulties for Serbia each time the Chief UN War Crimes Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, visits Belgrade ahead of delivering his upcoming bi-annual report on Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY to the UN Security Council.

The Action Team continues to plan and carry out searches for Mladic’s whereabouts in particular.

So far, they have revealed that Mladic was in Russia in 1996, that he returned to Serbia in March 1997 and that in July 1998, he spent the summer in Montenegro.

They have also disclosed that he was hiding in military facilities until June 2002 and then in various Belgrade apartments, mostly in the New Belgrade area, until December 2005. But the team’s last dated traces of Mladic’s relate to 2008.

The team insists that the arrest of Mladic and Hadzic remains a priority and that Belgrade is doing its best to co-operate with the Hague court.
But while Serbian officials remain optimistic about the country's progress towards the EU, Brammertz does not appear convinced. “It is necessary to do more,” he said in September.

The UN prosecutor’s last report from June has already deemed Belgrade’s level of cooperation with the Hague court insufficient. Whatever Serbian officials say to the contrary, it looks unlikely that this year’s report will be any better.

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