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U.N. quashes Mladic capture rumors


Ratko Mladic
Radovan Karadzic
Bosnia and Herzegovina

(CNN) -- Top war crimes fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic remains at large despite rumors of his capture, according to the United Nations chief prosecutor.

Carla del Ponte told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands, on Wednesday the former Bosnian Serb Army commander was within reach of Serbian authorities and they must arrest him. She said no negotiations were under way for his surrender.

"Mladic is in Serbia, there's no doubt about it," she told reporters.

"He's been there since 1998 and, during all this time, he has been and he remains within reach of the Serbian authorities. He can and must be arrested immediately. And I expect all Serbian authorities to work much more intensively toward that objective."

The former commander of the Bosnian Serb army is indicted by the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague, Netherlands, for some of the worst atrocities during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic are charged with being the masterminds behind the massacre on July 11, 1995 at Srebrenica of 8,000 Muslim men and boys. (Full story)

That Mladic remains at large is seen as an embarrassment, a major failure of efforts to bring war criminals to justice.

Mladic was believed to have returned to Belgrade after the war but disappeared from the Serb capital after former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001. He was believed to be holed up in the border regions of Serbia and Bosnia.

European Union officials had given the Serb government until the end of February to hand Mladic and Karadzic over to The Hague, and threatened to freeze membership talks otherwise.

Vladeta Jankovic, aide to Serbia-Montenegro Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, commented on the rumors of the capture during a press briefing on Wednesday in Belgrade.

He reiterated that two denials of the capture were issued on Tuesday.

"We can only regret the confusion of yesterday through no fault of the Serbian government," he said. "We remain confident that it will not affect (government) credibility and its so far very successful cooperation with the tribunal and the prosecution of the international court in The Hague."

But official denials by both Serbia and Washington have failed to quash rumours that Mladic was either under arrest or being talked into surrender for the sake of the country's future.

Serb dailies Glas Javnosti and Blic and the Bosnian Serb newspaper Nezavisne Novine reported the 63-year-old fugitive was at a secure location negotiating terms of his surrender.

The talks were reported to be taking place at a monastery, or a hunting lodge, or a village with an underground rocket base, according to Reuters.

The Belgrade daily Kurir quoted an unnamed source close to the BIA security agency as saying the government denial was a cover-up.

"The government spokesman doesn't dare confirm it because there's a fear of unrest in Belgrade," the source said.

"But it is completely true that Mladic has been arrested."

Earlier reports said Mladic was tracked down in Serbia then taken to Bosnia, to defuse nationalist anger at home but still salvage Belgrade's talks with the EU.

His handover is increasingly seen by many Serbs as a necessary sacrifice, but others view him as a blameless soldier.

"I can't decide if an arrest is the right thing to do or not," Serbian bank clerk Sinisa Pavlovic told Reuters. "As a country we're in such a situation, there isn't much we can do about it. It's up to the authorities to decide what's best."

'Shelling, sniping'

Mladic was born on March 12, 1942 in the village of Kalinovik in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was trained at the military academy of the Yugoslav People's Army.

In 1991, he commanded the army's 9th Corps in fighting against Croatian forces. A year later, he headed the Yugoslav army's headquarters in Sarajevo, before commanding the newly created Bosnian Serb army.

In 1992, as hostilities broke out in Sarajevo, Mladic led the "shelling and sniping to target civilian areas of the city and its civilian population and institutions, killing and wounding civilians, and thereby also inflicting terror upon the civilian population," the war crimes tribunal contends.

Mladic is accused of leading the army into the U.N.-protected enclave in Srebrenica in 1995. "Subsequently, those Bosnian Serb Forces terrorized Bosnian Muslims, who were forcibly transferred to areas outside the enclave and many of whom fled in a huge column through the woods towards Tuzla. The majority of this group consisted of unarmed military personnel and civilians," the tribunal says.

It was during this period that killings at Srebrenica took place.

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