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Serbia Unfreezes Mladic's Military Pension

Bosiljka Mladic (left), the wife of Ratko Mladic, and their son, Darko, leave a Belgrade Special Court on May 27, one day after the wartime Bosnian Serb commander's capture after nearly 16 years on the run.
BELGRADE -- Serbian authorities unfroze the military pension of Bosnian Serb war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic after he was handed over to The Hague war crimes tribunal last week, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Following Mladic's arrest on May 26 in a small town near Belgrade, officials paid about 50,000 euros ($70,000) to Mladic's family in pension arrears that had accrued since late 2005, when the government decided to increase pressure on the then-fugitive general.

Mladic is accused of mass killings, forceful deportations, and other crimes against non-Serbs during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

Mladic was transferred on May 31 to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague, where he will face trial while his family will collect his roughly 800 euro (about $1,100) pension every month.

A career officer in the Yugoslav army, Mladic was one of thousands of ethnic Serbian officers who stayed in Bosnia-Herzegovina after it declared independence in 1992 and joined the separatist Bosnian Serb army.

Belgrade continued to pay their salaries and health and social insurance contributions through the so-called 30 Personnel Center of the Yugoslav army.

After the Bosnian war, Mladic is believed to have moved to Serbia to avoid arrest by NATO troops in Bosnia. Details about that time are murky, but The Hague war crimes tribunal claims he stayed on the center's payroll until retiring in June 2001, allegedly shielded from arrest by supporters in the Serbian government, the Intelligence Ministry, and the military.

Sonja Biserko, who heads Serbia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said Mladic's biography clearly points to a close link between Belgrade and Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's highly autonomous Republika Srpska.

"It shows that the Republika Srpska would not survive without logistical, financial, and military aid from Serbia during and after the war," Biserko said. "Mladic's trial could be an important indicator of the [magnitude of the] Belgrade-Banja Luka axis, and that is why he was not extradited earlier."

Legal expert Radoslav Stojanovic, who represented Serbia in Bosnia's genocide and aggression lawsuit against Belgrade at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), said the matter of Mladic's Serbian pension will not provide new evidence that the Bosnian government could use to reopen the case against its neighbor.

In 2007, the ICJ ruled that Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide in the eastern Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995, where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys had been killed. But it found Serbia responsible only for failing to arrest and try the perpetrators of those crimes, not for helping to plan, carry out, or cover up the massacre.

But Bosnia's hopes could be boosted if Mladic decides to defend himself and points to Belgrade as the place from which he received his orders while heading the Bosnian Serb army.

"I am afraid that Mladic could say that he called Belgrade and that [former Serbian President] Slobodan Milosevic told him, 'Do what you want,'" Stojanovic told RFE/RL. "Mladic could harm Serbia a great deal this way and Bosnia could then reopen its case at the ICJ."