(photo credit: REUTERS)
BELGRADE - Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic was arrested in Serbia on Thursday after years on the run from international genocide charges, opening the way for the once-pariah state to approach the European mainstream.
RELATED:State asks to extradite Serb-Israeli wanted for genocide
The general, accused of orchestrating the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica and a brutal 43-month siege of Sarajevo during Bosnia's 1992-5 war, was found in a farmhouse owned by a relative, a police official said.
"On behalf of the Republic of Serbia I can announce the arrest of Ratko Mladic. The extradition process is under way," Serbian President Boris Tadic told reporters in Belgrade.
Tadic confirmed Mladic, 69, had been detained in Serbia, which had long said it could not find a man who was armed and funded by the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and is still seen as a hero by many Serbs.
"This removes a heavy burden from Serbia and closes a page of our unfortunate history," Tadic said.
Mladic was arrested in the village of Lazarevo, near the northeastern town of Zrenjanin around 100 km (60 miles) from the capital Belgrade in the early hours, a police official said.BITTERSWEET
Bosnian Muslim survivors said the news was bittersweet.
"I am happy to be alive to witness his arrest and at the same time very sorry many other Srebrenica victims did not live to witness this moment," said Munira Subasic, who lost her son and husband when Bosnian Serbs under Mladic seized Srebrenica, designated at the time as a "U.N. safe area".
A Mladic family friend earlier told Reuters Mladic had been taken to the
headquarters of the Serbian intelligence agency after an interior
ministry official said police had arrested a man going by the name of
Milorad Komadic on an anonymous tip.
The European Union said Mladic's arrest would show that Serbia, which
was under international sanctions over the war in Bosnia and then bombed
by NATO to stop atrocities in Kosovo in 1999, wanted to move forward on
European Union membership.
"This is an important step forward for Serbia and for international
justice," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Ashton
said in a statement.
"We expect Ratko Mladic to be transferred to the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia without delay. Full cooperation with
the ICTY remains essential on Serbia's path towards EU membership," she
A Serbian prosecutor said extradition procedures would take about a week.
Many Serbian nationalists idolise Mladic and one representative made clear their fury with the government.
"This shameful arrest of a Serb general is a blow to our national
interests and the state," Boris Aleksic, a spokesman for the
ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party said. "This is a regime of liars
-- dirty, corrupt and treacherous."
Dozens of people were arrested and injured in 2008 throughout Serbia in
riots following the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader
Tadic said he would not allow a repeat of such violence.
"This country will remain stable," he said. "Whoever tries to destabilise it will be prosecuted and punished."
Washington and other capitals hailed the arrest.
"The European prospects of Serbia are now brighter than ever," said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
"Serbia is a country that has suffered a lot but the fact it has
delivered presumed war criminals is very good news. It's one more step
towards Serbia's integration one day into the European Union," French
President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a Group of Eight summit in France.
Tadic said Mladic's arrest opened the way for reconciliation in the
Balkans region, which is still recovering from the conflicts that tore
apart old federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
"This secures Serbia's integrity in the international arena," Tadic said.
Although it removes a diplomatic thorn from Serbia's side, the
revelation that Mladic was in Serbia, as many suspected, raises
questions as to how he eluded justice for so long.