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Scholar Says U.S. Military Met Mladic, But Made No Arrest

General Ratko Mladic, pictured in 1995

General Ratko Mladic, pictured in 1995

Serbian President Boris Tadic said last week his country is continuing to gather fresh intelligence on Europe's most wanted man -- war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic -- and will arrest him once it has enough evidence.

Mladic was indicted in July 1995 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The arrest and extradition to the Hague of the Bosnian Serb general, who oversaw the siege of Sarajevo and the deaths of some 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, is considered key to Serbia's EU membership bid.

But an American scholar is now citing evidence that the U.S. military in Bosnia had numerous opportunities to arrest Mladic in 1996 -- but saw such a move as contrary to U.S. policy aims. Charles Ingrao of Indiana's Purdue University told RFE/RL that new research shows that American military personnel tracked, and even met with, the fugitive General Mladic for months in 1996 -- but never arrested him, out of fear of exposing U.S. troops in the region to a fresh outbreak of violence.

"The key here was that the U.S. military was simply unwilling to sustain the risk of casualties as it was performing what it saw as its primary mission -- to bring peace to Bosnia," he said. "It saw the responsibility for arresting war criminals as a dangerous additional task, because it recognized, as did [U.S.] President [Bill] Clinton, that if they arrested some Serb war criminals, there might be attacks on U.S. soldiers."

Ingrao is the director of Scholars' Initiative, a group of some 300 researchers from the Balkans and the West. Their new publication, "Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies," includes testimony from a former U.S. serviceman who served as part of a unit tasked with tracking Mladic following the end of the three-and-a-half-year Bosnian War.

Between February and July 1996, the U.S. unit tracked Mladic's moves, and may have met with the Bosnian Serb general as many as 20 times.

Ingrao told RFE/RL that according to his source -- a U.S. military officer with ties to the American intelligence community, who spoke to Scholars' Initiative on condition of anonymity -- "there was communication between the U.S. military and Mladic at a time when Mladic should have been arrested."

Ingrao hastened to add that Dutch, British, and French military personnel likewise had no intention of arresting ICTY indictees. He also said similar treatment was extended to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who operated in plain sight until he retired from government in July 1996.

Ingrao spoke to Branka Trivic, a Belgrade-based correspondent with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, about his findings.

RFE/RL: What sort of contact was there between Mladic and U.S. Army commanders between February and July 1996?

Charles Ingrao: The military would stake out an area, and when they saw Mladic, they would follow him. They would closely follow his convoy around the area [of Han Pijesak, Mladic's former command center]. I was never told why they were staking out and following him, but my assumption is that they were letting their presence be known to him.

Then, on several occasions, [U.S. Colonel John] Batiste [the commander of one of two U.S. brigades during the IFOR international mission in Bosnia from December 1995 through November 1996] was brought to the Han Pijesak headquarters and to the headquarters of [Mladic's] 65th Protective Regiment. He would go into a room, and emerge later, and everyone in the unit knew what he was doing, because there was no other reason for him to be going in there. And from the fact that he went into the room without his military police or anybody else present, it was clear that he was meeting with Mladic.

We do not know if Mladic had other people there, but no other U.S. military personnel were involved -- it was just Batiste in these meetings. He went in alone, with his MPs outside, and would disappear for a while and then come back out.

RFE/RL: And it could be seen that Mladic was definitely there?

Ingrao: No, the unit did not actually see Mladic. But they indicated to me that there was no question but that this was what he was going to these locations to do.

RFE/RL: Did your source indicate the Pentagon was aware of these meetings between Batiste and Mladic?

Ingrao: There is no question that an American senior officer meeting with a twice-indicted war criminal is something that could only have been done with the foreknowledge and approval of the U.S. military command in Vitez. There is no question about that. It would seem very unusual if they were not in touch with the Pentagon.

RFE/RL: What, according to your source, was the purpose of these meetings between Mladic and Batiste?

Ingrao: These meetings were presumably meant to negotiate his "permissive detention" -- his voluntary surrender. The U.S. military unit was rehearsing [a system of] taking him into custody and then getting him out of the area before there were any attempts by his protection force to prevent it.

RFE/RL: But he didn't give himself up, and still they didn't arrest him.

Ingrao: That's right. We've interviewed several military officers who have stated as much. The former U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Croatia, William Montgomery, has been on record talking about the degree to which the U.S. military actively torpedoed any attempts to get war criminals arrested.

We've also interviewed military officers who said the same thing to us, and I also interviewed someone with IFOR who ascertained that there was simply no dissemination of pictures [of ICTY indictees, as the White House claimed at the time]. I went up and down the Route Arizona [running through the demilitarized zone dividing Serbian-held and Muslim-held sectors of Bosnia], and there were no photographs [of indictees]. It was clear that the U.S. military was not going after war criminals.

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