Serbia vows arrest and trial of Mladic by year-end

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BRUSSELS, July 6 (Reuters) Serbia aims to arrest and transfer fugitive Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic to the UN war crimes tribunal by the end of the year, President Boris Tadic vowed today.

Tadic told reporters after meetings with EU officials his government viewed the transfer of Mladic, charged with genocide, as key to signing a stabilisation and association agreement (SAA) on closer ties with the EU, but also as a moral imperative.

''That is our goal,'' Tadic told a news conference, when asked whether Belgrade expected to hand Mladic over by the end of the year to the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

''We all know it is a precondition in achieving agreement in the SAA but at the same time this is our moral obligation and this is our strategic goal. We will do everything in our power to arrest all fugitives including Ratko Mladic.'' Mladic is wanted over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. ICTY officials believe he is hiding in Serbia.

Tadic said his new government had already shown evidence of better cooperation with ICTY, noting the arrest in May of Bosnian Serb general Zdravko Tolimir, a close Mladic aide.

United Nations war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte has called on Belgrade to deliver Mladic by the end of the year, noting ICTY was under international pressure to complete all trials on its books by next year.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the same news conference he hoped the European Union and Serbia could finally sign the long-stalled SAA pact in the same timescale.

But he declined to say whether Serbia would be ready to win the status of a candidate country for EU membership in 2008, something pro-EU politicians in Belgrade want.

''It is not just a technical issue, it is a political issue. I will not commit myself to a date. We would like to do it as quickly as possible,'' he said.

Reuters RKM DB2128

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