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Army still protects war crimes suspects

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BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro -- Ratko Mladic, the so-called "butcher of Belgrade" who has been indicted in the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims, remains under covert Serbian army protection and is "running rings around" Western intelligence agencies hunting him, security sources say.

Eurofor, the NATO-backed force in Bosnia tasked with arresting Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president also indicted in the massacre at Srebrenica a little more than 10 years ago, is "deeply demoralized" and handicapped by bureaucratic red tape, says a senior Western intelligence source working on the hunt for war criminals.

"We are in no position to mount a blitz to capture Karadzic or Mladic should we pinpoint their location," he said. "They are running rings around us."

Serbian President Boris Tadic has pledged repeatedly that Belgrade's security services will arrest Mladic, who is known to move between Serbia and neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But Western diplomats in Belgrade question whether Serbian politicians are capable of delivering the tough general who reportedly has vowed that he will never be taken alive.

A former head of Serbia's BIA intelligence agency, Goran Petrovic, said Mladic is being protected by the general staff of the Serbia-Montenegro army, in which Russian-trained hard-liners consider him a hero to be protected from Western judges.

Until 2002, the officer in charge of Mladic's protection was Yugoslav army Col. Dragomir Krstovic, one of 10 officers "responsible for securing everything Mladic needed," Mr. Petrovic told Blic newspaper.

"I believe Krstovic is still doing his job," Mr. Petrovic said.

The Serbia-Montenegro army and army of the Republica Srpska, the Serbian-run half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, have coordinated the general's security for years, he added.

"Krstovic didn't make his own decision to take care of Mladic," he added. "He was given orders to do so; he needs to say by who."

Serbian public opinion has polarized on the issue, with some signs that support for Mladic and Karadzic may be growing.

Teenage girls wander the streets of the capital wearing Karadzic and Mladic T-shirts, which are sold openly by members of the nationalist Radical Party in the city's main park.

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, this month for the first time attended a public rally organized by the Radical Party to commemorate Serbs killed in the Srebrenica region.

Leading Belgrade news magazines such as Vreme were quick to publish photographs of the bearded patriarch at the Radical rally.

Opinion polls suggest that the Radicals could win the next election or become Serbia's biggest party, meaning that they might have to be brought into government.

The United States earlier this year said it detected a new attitude by Belgrade authorities to war criminals as several Serbian suspects were persuaded to surrender voluntarily to The Hague in return for cash payments to their families and other incentives.

Serbian denial about war crimes carried out as Bosnia and Croatia broke away from the former Yugoslavia was dented this month when a video showing Serbian "Scorpion" paramilitaries killing Bosnians at Srebrenica was aired on Serbian television for the first time.

But support for war criminals, and the networks linked to organized crime that finance their survival on the run, is rife in the judiciary as well as the army and the Orthodox Church.

Luka Karadzic, the former president's flamboyant businessman brother, was arrested by Serb police briefly last week on drunken-driving charges after his Mercedes careened through a crash barrier on a highway near the central city of Kragujevac.

Branislav Rebic, 21, died Tuesday from injuries sustained when the Mercedes plowed into her Fiat.

A district court at the town of Topola ordered Luka Karadzic released, however, in a decision pundits said underlined the continuing influence of the Karadzic clan.

"Now another Karadzic is free," the independent B 92 radio station said.

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