BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia said on Thursday it had arrested Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic after years on the run from international genocide charges, opening the way for the once-pariah state to seek to join the European Union.
“On behalf of the Republic of Serbia I can announce the arrest of Ratko Mladic. The extradition process is underway,” Serbian President Boris Tadic told reporters in Belgrade.
Tadic said Mladic was arrested in Serbia, which had long said it could not find him.
“This removes a heavy burden from Serbia and closes a page of our unfortunate history,” he said.
Commander of Bosnian Serb forces in the 1992-95 Bosnia war, Mladic was indicted by an international war crimes court in 1995 on genocide charges for the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and 43-month siege of Sarajevo.
A 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 someone thought to be Mladic and were checking his identity.
“He has some physical features of Mladic. We are analyzing his DNA now,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Mladic kept a low profile after the Bosnia war — Europe’s worst fighting since World War Two — and then faded from public view in the early 2000s. Yet the fugitive continued to cast a long shadow over Serbia, as the EU made Belgrade’s integration contingent upon his arrest.
The European Union said his arrest would show the country wanted to move forward on European Union membership.
Mladic, seen by many Serbs as a hero for his loyal and fearless service to the Serb cause, is expected to quickly be transferred to the Hague court to face a trial.
The prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague said it could not comment on operational issues.
(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner in Rabat, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by Philippa Fletcher)
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