Justice at last for Ratko Mladic, Butcher of Bosnia
It was Serbia’s desire to join the EU that did for the Muslim-hating Bosnian Serb general
War criminals on the run are like buses - you spend a long time waiting around and then two come along at once. First Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, is taken out in Pakistan and then Europe's most wanted war criminal, General Ratko Mladic, the 'Butcher of Bosnia', is arrested in Serbia, where until recently he seemed immune from the attentions of the authorities.
Although a regular soldier, first in the army of old Yugoslavia and then its Bosnian Serb offshoot, Mladic looked and thought like a hard-scrabble Bosnian Serb mountain peasant.
He enjoyed folk music, drinking and eating. Particularly fond of roast suckling pig, at one meeting with Colonel Karremans, the unfortunate Dutch military commander in the UN enclave of Srebrenica, he slit the throat of the pig due to be served up later for supper.
Above all, he hated Muslims - whom he regarded as blood enemies - and anyone who tolerated or protected them. This accounts for the brutal relish with which he conducted the Siege of Sarajevo and his subsequent genocidal massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.
First indicted for war crimes after Srebrenica, Mladic has had a good run for his money.
At one point the posse in pursuit consisted of the CIA, MI6, DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure) and even the very small Dutch intelligence service. The oak-covered mountains of central Bosnia were thick with spooks for many years all assisted as required by their own special forces.
Time and again they just missed him. In the pre-Bin Laden era, killing or capturing Mladic was the blue riband of intelligence work.
In the early days his whereabouts were sometimes known but he was difficult to get at. He spent most of his time at his headquarters in Han Pijesak, a series of Tito-era bunkers hidden beneath a remote villa deep in the Bosnian mountains.
In true partisan style, the bunkers were well-concealed, easy to guard and had multiple exits. A couple of alert sentries with good binoculars could spot intruders miles away.
In any case, until his fall in 2001 President Milosevic was an assiduous protector of Bosnian Serb war criminals. For a time Mladic is supposed to have lived undisturbed in a suburb of Belgrade popular with retired officers (shades of Abbottabad), even having the confidence to attend football matches.
There seemed little likelihood of him being brought to justice. To many he remained a hero. Those that disapproved of his brutality were resentful of the allied bombing of Belgrade and in no mood to help ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia).
Mladic's boss Radovan Karadzic was arrested in 2008 after living obscurely in Belgrade for some time apparently as a faith healer. But Mladic was different: he had been a general - not a politician - and still enjoyed the protection of the Serbian military and parts of its intelligence apparatus whose subtle hand can be detected in a recent raft of disinformation suggesting he was long dead from natural causes.
But whatever the Serbs may have been in the past, President Boris Tadic has been desperate to join the European Union since coming to power in 2004. An immoveable condition of any negotiations was that Mladic had to be hunted down and handed over.
Last year at last Tadic had the courage to take action, increasing the bounty on Mladic's head to €10m, and inviting an FBI team to assist. Maybe that helped. Both David Cameron and William Hague in their reactions to the arrest stressed the long reach and memory of war crimes tribunals. There is no doubt that helped too.
But what really did for Mladic was a desperate desire of his countrymen to achieve 'candidate status' in their quest to join the EU. It is no coincidence that Mladic was discovered and arrested on the same day that the much maligned EU 'foreign minister' was in Belgrade for talks. Who needs special forces when you have Baroness Ashton? ·
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