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Prosecutor Says Serbia On Intense Manhunt For Mladic

Vladimir Vukcevic

Vladimir Vukcevic

BELGRADE -- Serbia is hunting intensively for Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, the last genocide suspect from the Bosnian war still on the run, and could arrest him soon, the country's top war crimes prosecutor said.

Mladic's arrest is the last key condition for Belgrade's closer ties with the European Union, after Serbia seized his wartime political chief Radovan Karadzic last month and handed him over to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"All our services have been engaged to the maximum extent possible. If we continue with the dynamics of the arrests from the past two years, I expect [the arrest] will happen soon," Vladimir Vukcevic told Reuters in his office in central Belgrade.

The West and the UN prosecutors have long criticized Serbian leaders for failing to arrest top war crimes suspects, out of fear they could lose public support in Serbia where many still see them as national heroes.

But since Vukcevic took the office in 2006, Serbia has arrested four out of six war crimes fugitives from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and sent them to The Hague to face trials.

'Unhelpful To Make Prognoses'

In addition to Mladic, it still needs to arrest Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, indicted for war crimes in Croatia's 1991-95 war of independence from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Local media have speculated Mladic's arrest could be imminent, but Vukcevic declined to be more precise.

"It's very unhelpful to make prognoses. No one can say," Vukcevic said.

Both Mladic and Karadzic, who led the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war, are indicted for genocide over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.

Karadzic was caught in Belgrade after 11 years on the run, living in disguise. Mladic has reportedly also lived in Belgrade under the protection of his diehard military aides.

Vukcevic said Mladic was "a completely different psychological profile" from Karadzic, a former psychologist.

"He was a professional soldier and had an illusion that he was fighting for Serb interests. It would be best for him, his family and us if he surrendered voluntarily," he said. "This Hague [tribunal] story must be finished."

Karadzic is due to enter a plea to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity on August 29.

Analysts say he might try to delay the start of the trial, a tactic already used by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Milosevic died in jail in 2006 before the trial could end.

"They all hope to gain from delays of the trials in light of the tribunal's exit strategy," said Vukcevic, referring to the scheduled 2010 closure of the tribunal. "But Karadzic would then be tried in Sarajevo," he added.

Vukcevic said Serbia's judiciary would crack down on anyone who helped war crimes suspects stay at large by providing fake identity documents.

"We shall be rigorous ... Someone has obviously helped them and we shall investigate it."