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EU urges Serbia to grab "cornered" fugitive Mladic

By Staff
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BELGRADE, Feb 23 (Reuters) The European Union called on Serbia today to hand over war crimes fugitive general Ratko Mladic, warning it could suspend talks with Belgrade on closer ties if he was not brought to justice.

The repeat warning from Englargement Commissioner Olli Rehn coincided with reports in Serbia that Mladic was cornered and under pressure to surrender to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague before EU foreign ministers assess the situation next Monday.

The Serbian government denied rumours on tueday that Mladic was already under arrest. It was silent today in the face of further reports saying it was trying to get Mladic to agree to give himself up but feared a gunbattle or his suicide.

''Full cooperation (with the tribunal) should lead to the arrest and transfer of Ratko Mladic,'' Rehn the European Parliament in Brussels. ''Negotiations should be suspended if the Commission judges that Serbia and Montenegro at any time does not satisfactorily address this.'' Mladic is indicted for genocide in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.

The Belgrade daily Kurir said he and four bodyguards were ''trapped'' in a Belgrade apartment by a special police team formed to arrest top war crimes suspects. It said an assault could be ordered sometime during the day.

Mladic, 63, had no intention of going quietly, it said.

Opinion polls suggest most Serbs view delivering Mladic to justice as a necessary sacrifice, but not all think so.

The ultranationalist Radical Party, which opposes the handover of Mladic, was due to hold a protest rally outside parliament on Friday to ''stop the Hague tyranny''.

Its acting leader, Tomislav Nikolic, says people might ''take to the streets'' to protest the arrest of the general, seen as a hero by many Serbs despite his alleged supervision of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 unarmed Muslims.

The government has denounced media ''fabrications (which) are not only totally frivolous but really damaging''.

Rehn, who visited Belgrade last week, urged Serbia not to let Mladic block its path to eventual EU membership.

''The country has a concrete and tangible EU perspective,'' he said. ''But Serbia has to make sure the country's future is not taken hostage...'' The top-selling tabloid Blic quoted one analyst as saying the government was ''probably still trying to secure a deal with Mladic that will make his arrest look like a surrender and therefore ease the political pressure''.

The daily Glas Javnosti said Mladic ''was transferred to Belgrade two days ago and the government is still trying to persuade him to go to The Hague voluntarily''.

''The scenario of his departure is not agreed yet, but it will most probably take place in the Bosnian Serb Republic. We should wait a couple of more days,'' its source said.

The weekly Evropa said Belgrade had asked the tribunal for a little more time and predicted the handover would take place ''a day or two after February 27, when Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic is due to meet Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte to exchange the latest intelligence information on Mladic.

Mladic was indicted along with his political boss Radovan Karadzic in 1995 for genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, which claimed 12,000 lives, and for orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre.

In Western eyes he has long personified the ruthless brand of Serbian nationalism blamed for the wars that erupted as Yugoslavia fell apart in the 1990s, with up to 200,000 dead. To westward-looking Serbs he is a political albatross.

REUTERS SHR HS2147

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