BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro — This nation’s chances of joining the European Union were thrown into doubt yesterday by the government’s failure yet again to meet an internationally mandated deadline for capture of one of Europe’s most wanted men.
The European Union had vowed to break off accession talks with Serbia unless it delivered retired Gen. Ratko Mladic to the international war-crimes tribunal in The Hague by the end of last month. The pro-Western government of Vojislav Kostunica says it will continue the hunt for the fugitive general, who is blamed in the massacre of 8,000 unarmed men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.
“Mladic is the problem of all problems,” said Dejan Anastasijevic, who covers security and organized crime for Vreme, one of Serbia’s leading news magazines. “The pressure has reached a point [where] it’s much more important for Serbia to deliver Mladic than for the Western countries and institutions to get Mladic.
“To get an extension of the last deadline, Kostunica had to step in personally and make a public and personal pledge to the European Union,” said Mr. Anastasijevic, who spoke before yesterday’s failure to deliver the general.
“Previously, there were promises, but they were not personal and they were not public. So essentially, Kostunica, as the prime minister, has put his credibility on the line. If he doesn’t deliver, his word will not be worth a dime.”
Beyond the prime minister’s credibility, there are other issues that bode ill for Serbia in the coming weeks and months.
The failure to meet EU demands will mean the disappointment of public opinion, which now favors membership in the organization, and the loss of development assistance that is given to candidate nations.
Serbia’s once-robust economic growth, meanwhile, is lagging, in part because of uncertainty about the country’s future.
Montenegro, the only remaining region of the former Yugoslavia that is still partnered with Serbia, will hold a secession referendum this month. The tiny territory along the Adriatic Sea is leaning towards separation, in part because it fears its own EU aspirations will be crippled by the partnership.
If Serbia doesn’t capture Gen. Mladic soon, it is virtually certain that Montenegrins will vote for independence.
“No one will split hairs if he’s captured on the 5th but, yes, they have to capture him before the Montenegro referendum” on May 21, Mr. Anastasijevic said.
The 64-year-old Gen. Mladic, the top officer in the former Yugoslav army during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, is wanted in connection with the worst wartime atrocities in Europe since World War II.
His most egregious crimes include the 3-year siege of Sarajevo, which led to at least 11,000 deaths, and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.