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Poll: Most Serbs Support General Accused Of War Crimes

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (right) and his wartime commander Ratko Mladic
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic (right) and his wartime commander Ratko Mladic
BELGRADE -- More than half of Serbia's population would not approve sending fugitive Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to face trial for genocide at the UN war crimes court, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic were indicted by the Hague-based court for genocide during the 1992-95 war, including the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica.

The Serbian government has issued a 10 million euro ($14.1 million) reward for information leading to his capture, but only 34 percent of those polled said they would approve of Mladic being arrested, while 40 percent said they regard him as a hero.

An overwhelming 78 percent said they would not report Mladic to the authorities, according to the findings of the poll, which was conducted for the Serbian government's National Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal.

The council did not say which organization conducted the poll or give details about the number of people surveyed or where they live.

Karadzic has been on trial since shortly after his arrest in July 2008 in Belgrade, where he was hiding for years disguised as a new-age healer. The ongoing failure to arrest Mladic has strained Serbia's relations with the West and has hampered its bid to become a candidate for European Union membership.

Serbian Social Policy Minister Rasim Ljajic, who leads the National Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal, said the results show that people are projecting their social and economic woes onto the government and international community, which they see as biased against Serbia when it comes to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The Serbian government says it wants to apprehend Mladic and has staged several operations targeting him.

But chief UN War Crimes Prosecutor Serge Brammertz has repeatedly warned President Boris Tadic and the government that they need to make a greater effort toward capturing him.

Brammertz is due to present his six-month report on Serbia's cooperation to the UN Security Council in June, and Ljajic told the Belgrade-based daily "Press" that the report will most likely be largely negative.

"The searches are carried out very professionally and intensively but, unfortunately, we've reached the stage where our efforts will not be appreciated because the result is missing," Ljajic said.

But sociologist Janja Bec Neumann told RFE/RL the failure to arrest Mladic reflects Serbia's unwillingness to face up to its role in the wars, in which Serbia and former President Slobodan Milosevic politically and militarily supported the Bosnian Serbs.

Neumann said Serbian history textbooks deny that Serbs committed any crimes against any other ethnic groups either in the Balkan wars or during World War II.

"There is a state strategy of denial; here it is still almost impolite to talk about Srebrenica," Neumann said. "Everything is being swept under the carpet, and everything happens in accordance with three dominant pillars: the culture of lies, the culture of deceit, and the culture of fear."