Ratko Mladic arrested, Serbian president confirms

Former Bosnian Serb commander wanted for war crimes, including Srebrenica massacre, to be extradited to UN tribunal

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Police in Serbia have arrested Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader wanted by the United Nations for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war, including the Srebrenica massacre.

The arrest of Mladic – who had let it be known that he would rather kill himself than be arrested – was confirmed by the Serbian president, Boris Tadic.

"On behalf of the Republic of Serbia I can announce the arrest of Ratko Mladic," Tadic told reporters.

Mladic, who was arrested in Serbia, would be extradited to the United Nations war crimes tribunal, Tadic said. A government spokesman said the process could take up to seven days.

"We ended a difficult period of our history and removed the stain from the face of the members of our nation wherever they live," Tadic said.

Mladic has already been indicted by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) over allegations of genocide and other war crimes during the Bosnian war.

Mladic, now 68, is wanted as the commander of the 44-month-long siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, which killed more than 10,000 people, and for the massacre in July 1995 of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.

"Today we closed one chapter of our recent history that will help us one step closer to reconciliation in the region," Tadic said.

The president said he believed the arrest would facilitate his country's entry into the European Union. Mladic's extradition to Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague has been a condition of Serbia's bid to join the EU.

"I believe that the doors for Serbia to join the EU are open," Tadic said.

An official from the Serbian interior ministry said Mladic was arrested after authorities received an anonymous tip. His identity was confirmed by DNA tests, the official said.

US and Serbian authorities had offered rewards of up to $19m (£11m) for information leading to Mladic's arrest.

A Serbian policeman said Mladic had been co-operative during the arrest.

"Mladic was handcuffed and whisked away," the officer said.

The formerly burly general was not disguised but had false identity papers and looked haggard and much older, the officer said. "Hardly anyone could recognise him."

Serbia had been under intense pressure over Mladic. The chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, complained this month that authorities were not doing enough to capture him.

Brammertz was scheduled to report in June to the UN security council about Serbian efforts to detain Mladic and other war crimes fugitives.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said Mladic's arrest was "an historic day for international justice".

"This arrest marks an important step in our collective fight against impunity … I commend the efforts of President Tadic and of the Serbian government."

David Cameron responded by saying Mladic was "accused of the most appalling war crimes, both in terms of what happened in Srebrenica but also in Sarajevo".

"There is a very good reason why the long arm of international law had been looking for him for so long."

The European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said Mladic should be sent to the tribunal without delay. "This is an important step forward for Serbia and for international justice," she said.

"We expect Ratko Mladic to be transferred to the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia without delay. Full co-operation with the ICTY remains essential on Serbia's path towards EU membership."

Government spokesman Slobodan Homen said the former military leader would be handed over in accordance with Serbian law. Mladic will first be questioned by a Serbian judge, who will also hand him the indictment, then the court will have three days to decide whether there are sufficient grounds for extradition – a ruling that Mladic can appeal.

When the appeals procedure ends the justice ministry makes the final decision on whether to extradite Mladic.

The ICTY said that it "looks forward to his expeditious transfer from Serbia to The Hague, following the completion of relevant judicial proceedings required by Serbian law".

"After transfer of custody to the tribunal Mladic will be detained pending his initial appearance before a judge," when he "will be given an opportunity to enter a plea to each of the charges brought against him in the indictment".

According to Croatia's Zagreb newspaper Jutarnji List, Mladic had been living under the pseudonym Milorad Komadic. The paper reported that the secret operation to arrest him came after a tip-off that Komadic "possessed some identification marks of Ratko Mladic and was physically very similar to him".

After the Yugoslav wars Mladic had initially lived openly in Belgrade for a number of years but dropped out of sight after 2000. Before then there had been credible reports of Mladic dining in fashionable restaurants and attending football matches.

Radovan Karadzic, the wartime political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, was arrested in 2008. Recent years have seen the surrender of a number of Mladic's former allies to the war crimes court as Belgrade has come under increasing pressure to co-operate with prosecutors. Those detained have included Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero, both accused of involvement in so-called ethnic cleansing.

Karadzic's American lawyer, Peter Robinson, said he had relayed the news of Mladic's arrest when he had visited him in The Hague detention unit, where Mladic will be sent if extradited.

Robinson said Karadzic expressed sorrow at Mladic's "loss of freedom" and that he "looks forward to working with him to bring out the truth about what happened in Bosnia".

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, congratulated the Serbian government for the arrest, which he called a "historic moment".

"Ratko Mladic stands accused of terrible crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and it is right that he will now be brought to face international justice. Today our thoughts are with the relatives of those killed during the siege of Sarajevo and genocide in Srebrenica," Hague said.

"Today should mark the beginning of a new chapter for the countries of the western Balkans."


Peter Beaumont, Adam Gabbatt and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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