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Mladic Video May Have Impact on Serbia's EU Membership Bid

  • Ron Synovitz

A TV grab reportedly shows Mladic dancing at a party.

A TV grab reportedly shows Mladic dancing at a party.

A Bosnian television station has shown what it says is recent video footage of indicted Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic freely enjoying life with members of his family and at parties attended by scores of guests.

One video aired by Sarajevo TV on the evening of June 10 show Mladic walking in the mountains with a stick and joking with his wife and daughter-in-law.

Analyzing Mladic's appearance, the Bosnian program "60 minutes" said the most recent footage probably was shot last year. But the station did not specify where the video was made or how it was obtained.

The program also showed older footage of Mladic visiting local cafes and restaurants and living at a house in the Belgrade neighborhood of Kosutnjak -- as well as attending his son's wedding and celebrating the birth of a granddaughter.

Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, was indicted in 1995 on genocide charges for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and for orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre of about 8,000 Muslims in 1995.

Today, a key condition for Serbia's progress toward membership in the European Union is Mladic's arrest and transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the issue at a June 15 summit in Luxembourg.

Serbia -- which last year turned over former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to The Hague -- has argued that it has intensified the search for Mladic, so the videos showing the former commander living in plain sight could prove an embarrassment for Belgrade.

Authentic, But Out-of-Date?

The Bosnian television broadcast has angered Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian official in charge of cooperation between Belgrade and the UN tribunal.

Ljajic confirmed that all of the video broadcast by Sarajevo TV was authentic footage of Mladic. But he says it was at least eight years old -- meaning it was recorded when former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was still in power.

Ljajic also said Serb authorities had seized the video footage from the Belgrade home of Mladic's family during a raid in 2008 and that it had already been handed over to the UN tribunal last March.

"Nothing has been hidden. All the footage you have seen is what we handed over to prosecutors from The Hague war crimes tribunal,” Ljajic said. “How it reached TV companies -- that remains an issue we will surely open. We have handed over that evidence to be used in proceedings in The Hague tribunal. And we expected it would wind up in court, rather than on TV broadcasts."

Olga Kavran, a spokeswoman for the UN tribunal's prosecutor, has confirmed that the prosecution possesses the same Mladic videos. But she has refused to comment on the context of the videotapes to avoid jeopardizing the ongoing search for Mladic.

Zelko Komsic, a member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, told RFE/RL the video footage raises serious doubts about claims by Serb officials that Mladic is not hiding in Serbian territory. Komsic says the issue is one that Belgrade needs to clear up once and for all -- for the sake of the future of Serbia.

Impact On EU Bid

Cornelius Adebahr, a Balkan expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that the video could be damaging to Belgrade's EU membership aspirations.

"It could certainly be damaging if it raised the idea that Ratko Mladic has indeed lived in or has sometimes had residence in Serbia in recent time,” Adebahr said. “The problem with Belgrade's bid for the European Union is that it rests on its full compliance with the conditions from the tribunal at The Hague -- which translates into extraditing Ratko Mladic if ever he is on Serbian territory.”

Adebahr continued: “Some people suggest that the footage means basically that at certain points in the recent past, Ratko Mladic was in Serbian territory. So there is this idea of making Belgrade look or appear in a light which is unfavorable with regard to this condition on cooperation with The Hague. That would indeed be damaging."

Adebahr told RFE/RL that he thinks the broadcast of the video is a positive development. But he says an authoritative opinion is needed on when and where the videos were made.

That opinion, Adebahr concludes, is likely to come next week when the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, addresses EU leaders about how well Belgrade has been cooperating in seeking Mladic’s arrest.

"The verdict is still out on the relevance of this [video] -- whether this had been shot most recently and whether it was actually shot in Serbia or not,” Adebahr said. “If it turns out to be true, then this would be damaging to Serbia's aspirations because it means that Serbia is not cooperating. It would mean that contrary to their [claims], Mladic was always on Serbian territory.”

That will be a factor in the decisions made during a European Council meeting next week, he said. “The chief prosecutor will report to them on exactly [the issue] of Belgrade's effort to cooperate with the tribunal. So we can see probably the immediate consequences next week already," Adebahr said.

Benjamin Ward, associate director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch, agreed that the key issue is when and where the video was shot.

"It's important to stress that we are not obviously able to determine the date of the footage. And obviously, that has been a very controversial issue,” Ward said.

“The thing that struck me, watching the footage, was how relaxed Ratko Mladic was,” Ward continued. “His demeanor very much suggests a man who had no fear of being arrested or betrayed. And it perhaps reflects the fact that Mladic is a much more popular figure in Serbia than [indicted war crimes suspect Radovan] Karadzic and has a much better network protecting him than Karadzic ever did."

Ward also agrees that Brammertz, the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor, is the international official who ultimately will determine whether the process of integrating Serbia into the European Union should be delayed as a result of revelations in the video.

"If, as Serbia says, the material has already been in the possession of the ICTY prosecutor's office, then obviously it wouldn't make any difference” in EU-Belgrade relations,” Ward said. “It would only make a difference, in any event, if it were clear that the material had been shot very recently and it was evidence of Mladic living openly -- which might change the assessment that the Serbian authorities don't have him within reach."

Ward concludes that the UN prosecutor's office has shown itself to be "very balanced and judicious" when assessing the cooperation of Balkan states. He says he is sure the tribunal will review the video and incorporate it appropriately in their assessment. And he says that if their assessment has changed as a result of the video, that point will certainly be made clear to EU leaders.

RFE/RL's Balkan Service contributed to this report from Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Prague.

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