Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Fate of Radko Mladic

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There is no doubt that intensified efforts are underway in Serbia to arrest Radko Mladic - shown here walking the streets of Srebrenica, probably on July 11th 1995 - and bring him to ICTY in The Hague.

If it doesn’t happen today, I would be surprised if we don't see some sort of resolution of the issue within the next few weeks.

The net around him is clearly closing.

The Serb security authorities have recently been picking up a number of people who are likely to have been key in the Mladic support system during the last few years. They now also have a clear view of most of the facilities that he has been using, at the least in the past.

But I don’t expect an arrest operation – which in some form and at some stage is most probably under way – will be easy one.

I’m not concerned with public opinion in Serbia. In the latest opinion polls, 57 % say that they want to see Mladic in The Hague as soon as possible. That’s the highest figure ever and a significant change.

And when I was recently talking with decision-makers in Belgrade there was no doubting the determination. The fact that the indicted Croat general Gotovina was, after all, arrested has clearly focused the minds, as has renewed pressure from the European Union.

But I am concerned with the possibilities of bringing him alive to The Hague. And that should be a prime objective. We need to hear from him in order to know what really happened at key junctures primarily in the Bosnian war. It’s not only Srebrenica – where he is clearly the key man responsible for what happened – but well beyond that.

Mladic is not a coward as a person. He’s a rugged soldier and a not incompetent military man. His mindset when it comes to warfare and the situation in the Balkans is however medieval – I have spent some hours listening to him.

There are reports that negotiations on Mladic’s voluntary surrender have definitely fallen through, which doesn’t really surprise me. But this only reinforces the conclusion that some sort of arrest operation is under way.

Speculations in Belgrade point at three possibilities in play: the first and most serious one is that Mladic should commit suicide in the crucial moment. The second is that he should be liquidated during the arrest, and the third, and least probable, is that he should be arrested.

And I essentially agree with this.

He is likely to still have a small group of loyal security men with him, and it would surprise me if they would give in without putting up a fight. It can not be excluded that he has given them order to shoot him in the event of an attempt at capturing him. He does not feel that he has anything more to lose.

But this would – as I wrote – be highly regrettable. We need his information. We need to know in detail what happened.

Srebrenica is perhaps the most important issue. That there was an attack against the enclave was not surprising. That the enclave feel when it wasn’t really defended even less so. That women and children were bused to safety neither. That men were separated and treated as prisoners of war wasn’t out of line either.

But the deliberate and systematic murder of thousands of prisoners was a unique event even by the gruesome standards of war in the Balkans.

And the information that has been produced by the trials at ICTY on Srebrenica so far has very clearly, and to the surprise of no one, pointed at the critical role of Mladic in that decision.

We need to know why…