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Serbian Village Where Mladic Was Arrested Says He's A Hero

Scenes From Lazarevo, Where Mladic Was Captured
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WATCH: footage taken by RFE/RL's Balkan Service at the cottage in the Serbian village of Lazarevo, where Ratko Mladic was arrested on May 26.

LAZAREVO, Serbia -- On approaching the tiny Serbian village where General Ratko Mladic was finally apprehended, someone has stuck a handwritten notice with the words "Ratko Hero" over the road sign for "Lazarevo."

Inside the town, we saw fresh graffiti on some of the buildings.

"Karadzic, Mladic, Serbian Heroes," someone had scrawled.

No need to use first names. Everyone knows this is a reference to Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime political leader, and Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander who is being readied for extradition to face an international court over alleged war crimes.

But if the signs we saw suggested that this was nationalist territory, the feeling became a conviction when we saw the crowd around the entrance to the house where Mladic was arrested early on May 26.

It was not a friendly or neutral-looking crowd. It was an angry and besieged platoon intent on keeping the media from defiling Mladic's last place of refuge.

'It's All A Set Up'

Fortunately, there was a heavy police presence so, even though those in the crowd weren't fond of reporters, they couldn't chase us away.

After a while, some of them even began talking to us.

“What can I tell you? It is all a set up, that’s what it is,” said one villager.

“Incredible!" someone else exclaimed. "First they destroyed us mentally and psychologically as a nation, and now we did all this. It’s a shame.”

Another local says that they won't call Lazarevo by that name anymore, but instead will call the village "Mladicevo” after Ratko Mladic.

The village has only around 3,000 residents, so visitors can't help but wonder: did these people know all along that Mladic was hiding here?

After all, even if Mladic used a false name -- "Milorad Komadic" -- his face is among the best-known in the Balkans, and witnesses say that when he was arrested he had no disguise, not even a beard. Didn't anyone know he was here?

The question sparked another burst of derision.

An Entire Village Intent On Saying Nothing

"Come on, it’s ridiculous," said one of the villagers. "They brought him here this morning in a black van and returned him back.”

“I’m 100-percent sure [of this]...this village doesn’t have 10,000, but 2,500 inhabitants. We know everything that happens around here. That would be known as well, for sure. They set it up and made a stain on the entire village.”

The same person said they had never heard of the name Milorad Komadic, which was the moniker Mladic had been using when he was arrested.

“There is no such surname in Lazarevo. Komadic does not exist,” he said.

"I’m a wall painter and I know everyone in Lazarevo," said another man who identified himself as Milorad Drljaca. "And there is no Milorad Komadic.”

Everybody seemed intent on saying nothing that could explain the mystery of how long the 69-year-old Mladic, who is in ill health, lived here and under what conditions.

Was he in hiding all the time? Did he walk openly in the streets? Did he greet people who knew exactly who he was?

Those are questions that will have to be answered somewhere else.

The only bit of concrete information we could get was from the people who live next door to the house where Mladic was arrested. They say the police swooped in at around 5 a.m. on the morning of May 26 and that everything was over in an hour.

"I think it’s all a staged photomontage," says another villager when asked about Mladic's arrest. "He was brought here to be filmed by the media, but he was arrested way before that. It is all a photomontage.... He wasn’t here. I’m 100-percent sure of that.”

Serbian security sources have told the media that three special units swooped in the early hours of May 26 and that the house where Mladic was living is owned by one of his relatives.

The house was also reportedly under surveillance for the past two weeks.

Those details don't exactly match what you hear in Lazarevo, but it is not a village that will divulge much information.

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