Friday, April 07, 2006

Mladic "says he's ready to surrender": report

A Bosnian weekly said on Thursday top Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic told U.N. chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte he would surrender soon, in a phone call placed by the Serbian prime minister from his office.

Slobodna Bosna quoted an unnamed source close to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica as saying the premier called Mladic on March 29 when his guest del Ponte asked him how he could be so sure of his promise to deliver him to the Hague tribunal within weeks.

The magazine said Kostunica put Mladic on speakerphone so del Ponte could hear the fugitive in person, promising to surrender and asking for medical treatment. There was no immediate comment on the report from Kostunica's office.

The handover of Mladic is key to Serbia's bid to join the European Union in the coming years.

Belgrade has repeatedly denied knowing where he is hiding or having contact with him, but Kostunica has pledged several times in recent weeks that the EU's conditions will be met soon.

The EU decided last week to carry on with a second round of so-called association talks with Serbia and Montenegro despite the fact that Mladic was still at large.

It did so after del Ponte reported unspecified progress in Belgrade's cooperation with the tribunal, averting a suspension of the talks.

A del Ponte spokesman said on Thursday that Kostunica had persuaded del Ponte during her visit that the former Bosnian Serb Army commander, who is indicted for genocide, would be handed over to The Hague this month.

He declined to say exactly how she was persuaded.

ILL

Slobodna Bosna said Kostunica had simply picked up the phone and called Mladic, who told the prosecutor he was ready to surrender but was seriously ill.

It said del Ponte promised he would be given the best possible medical treatment.

Mladic, now 64, asked sarcastically whether he would get the same medicine as Slobodan Milosevic, who died last month in his Hague cell of heart attack, after claiming he was being poisoned.

Del Ponte expressed regret about the death, saying it was scarcely in her personal interests to see Milosevic die before a verdict in his four-year-long trial, Slobodna Bosna said.

It said Mladic expressed a wish to surrender not in Serbia but in Bosnia's Serb Republic, for which he "spilled blood for years," and that his surrender should happen in the next two weeks. The reported conversation lasted less than five minutes.

Slobodna Bosna quoted its sources as saying Mladic had cancer and only a few more months to live.

A Belgrade daily on Thursday quoted Mladic's wife as saying four close relatives were detained and her son's business probed as pressure mounted on Serbia for his handover.

"I am in shock, I can't believe the pressure put on us," Bosa Mladic told Kurir.

She said she knew nothing of her husband's whereabouts or plans. "Who knows where my husband is, no one knows that," she said.

Mladic is indicted for genocide along with his political boss Radovan Karadzic, for ordering the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims and the siege of Sarajevo, which claimed over 10,000 civilian lives over 43 months.

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