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Genocide Suspect Ratko Mladic Arrested in Serbia

Former Serbian military commander Ratko Mladic, a genocidal nationalist responsible for the wholesale slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, has been captured and arrested following a daring commando raid in Lazareva, in the Banat region of Vojvodina, according to The Guardian, CNN, and other sources. Serbian President Boris Tadic announced the arrest today, refusing to give details. Mladic has been on the run since 1995. His capture opens the door to eventual European Union membership for Serbia, which has endured decades of ostracism and pressure from the pan-European body to capture Mladic.

Caught! (Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev)

Mladic, age 69, stands accused of genocide, ethnic cleansing, extermination and murder and other crimes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia says he was directly involved in the slaughter at Srebrenica, in which 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred while Dutch U.N. peacekeepers stood by and did nothing. Mladic’s crimes occurred during the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia after the end of European communism.

Just days before Mladic’s capture, Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, submitted a report to the United Nations Security Council that said Belgrade wasn’t doing as much as it could to find Mladic and other fugitives like Goran Hadzic, a Croatian Serb leader.

“To date, Serbia’s efforts to apprehend Mladic have not been sufficient,” the report reads. “Serbia’s failure undermines its credibility and the strength of its stated commitment to fully cooperate with the tribunal.”

“Such an approach is not a good one because we are doing everything necessary to arrest Mladic and Hadzic and all other Hague fugitives arrested,” Serbian interior minister Ivica Dacic said. “Brammertz’s report is important for some countries which have a say in the issue of Serbia’s European integration and this is a problem,” he added.

Chief among “some countries” is the Netherlands, which has tied its approval of Serbian EU negotiations to Brammertz’s evaluation of Belgrade’s progress.

Now it looks like Brammertz will be scrambling to re-write his report in light of recent developments, and the Serbian government and people must be feeling quite vindicated right now.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Mladic’s arrest “a very courageous decision by the Serbian President,” adding that it was “one more step towards Serbia’s integration one day into the European Union.”

Interpol, the international police agency, called the arrest “a triumph for international justice.” “After today, no one should doubt Serbia’s commitment to the rule of law,” said Ronald Noble, Interpol secretary-general.

“This opens a new chapter in relations between Serbia and Europe,” Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian member of the European Parliament and a Balkans expert declared. “The EU must now react in a positive way. As soon as possible the EU should give Serbia the status of EU membership candidate.”

Indeed, after catching the Big Three of Serb was criminals– former President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and now Mladic– Belgrade has proven that it is able and willing to fully comply with international demands, despite the often condescending manner in which the proud country has been treated.

But will the EU welcome Serbia into the fold? Croatia, Serbia’s neighbor and wartime nemesis, has been negotiating EU membership for six years now, and every time it appears as if membership is near, Brussels comes up with a new obstacle. Some of the big players in the EU are tired of admitting new members; there are currently 27 nations in the union, including recent additions Romania and Bulgaria, which joined in 2007.

The most likely stumbling block to Serbian EU membership is Kosovo. The southern province, which is mostly ethnic Albanian, is viewed by Serbs as the very birthplace of their nation. Serbs and Albanian Kosovars fought a bitter war in which NATO intervened with a brutal and crippling campaign of air strikes against military and civilian targets in Serbia in 1999. The result was independence for Kosovo, with the United States and many EU nations recognizing the new Albanian-ruled state and Belgrade refusing to acknowledge the new country. It is extremely unlikely that Serbia will be allowed to join the EU as long as it still claims Kosovo as its own.

It just so happens that Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, was in Belgrade pressuring the Tadic government to move towards this recognition as news of Mladic’s arrest broke, a vivid demonstration that Serbia’s road to EU membership will be a long and bumpy one at best.

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