Did Mladic give himself up for better cancer care?
As the Bosnian Serb general faces charges of genocide, he may have had an ulterior motive for giving himself up
Was Ratko Mladic, the 'Butcher of Bosnia', happy to give himself up because he knew he would get better medical care in The Hague than he has been able to receive in Belgrade?
It's a theory that's gaining ground as he prepares to face a war crimes tribunal tomorrow, when he will be formally charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at Srebrenica.
In the first days following his arrest a week ago, Mladic's supposed ill-health was used as an argument by his family for him not to be extradited to The Hague.
What was wrong with him was not explained and a medical team appointed by the tribunal deemed him fit to face trial.
Now it has been reported that he is suffering from cancer - possibly a type of lymphoma, according to the Times - and a former Belgrade police chief has claimed that it was Mladic himself who approached the Serbian authorities to negotiate his arrest, as long ago as last November.
"It was Mladic who made contact with them because he was really sick and they were beginning to destroy his family," said Marko Nicovic, who was chief of police until the civil war and now practises as a lawyer.
"He was here in the Belgrade area under the control of the BIA [the Security Information Agency - or secret police] for the last six months. They were just waiting for the right time to deliver him to The Hague."
The ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) is a stickler for correct procedure. Among the conditions of Mladic's detention are a choice of defence lawyers, a comfortably equipped isolation cell and - crucially - access to top-quality medical care.
"We are confident that he has access to the best possible medical care both in the detention unit where we have our own doctor and within the penitentiary hospital in a wider Dutch system as well as in the civilian hospitals in the Netherlands," ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told the media yesterday.
The Times also quotes Mladic's lawyer, Milos Saljic, as saying that he is in possession of documents showing his client was treated for cancer in Serbia two years ago. Saljic says the documents have not yet been published and are among papers sent to the ICTY ahead of tomorrow's arraignment.
If this is true, then it suggests a level of cooperation and protection for the former Bosnian Serb army chief that will raise important questions about his 16 years "on the run".
The ICTY prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, has already asked Serbia to explain how Mladic managed to evade arrest for so long. "We want to verify who over the past five years has been instrumental in helping Mladic to stay in hiding and we want them to be accountable," he said.
If Brammertz gets his way, the flights from Belgrade to The Hague could be busy in the coming weeks and months. ·
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