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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 10:50 GMT
Serbia admits Mladic family talks
Ratko Mladic in eastern Bosnia, 1995
Ratko Mladic's whereabouts are unknown
Serbia and Montenegro Defence Minister Zoran Stankovic has admitted holding secret talks with relatives of fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic.

But Mr Stankovic denied that his ministry was in talks for the surrender of the former Bosnian Serb general.

He said he did not know where Mr Mladic was hiding and insisted he was not being protected by the military.

The Serbian authorities have been blamed for the failure to capture Mr Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

The UN's High Representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, who steps down this week, has said the continued freedom of the two men wanted over the Srebrenica massacre is an obstacle to peace in Bosnia.

However, he noted that the Serb authorities had now begun to co-operate with the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Mr Stankovic told the BBC Mr Mladic was "not hiding in any military facility and no active military servicemen are protecting him".

"We don't have any information on his whereabouts," he said.

"The state has accepted all its obligations to the Hague tribunal and military intelligence are carrying out all operations to try and locate him and find out if he is here or not so he can be arrested and transported to the Hague."

Ongoing investigation

He added that, as far as he knew, the Serbian government was not in negotiations with Mr Mladic and did not know where he was. He did admit holding talks with Mr Mladic's family, but would not reveal details of what was said.

"I spoke with (his son) Darko and his mother just before New Year's Eve, in this office. I can't talk about it for obvious reasons," he said.

"As you know, while something is still in progress any comment will be inappropriate. It would only interfere with the ongoing investigation."

The EU has warned Serbia that moves towards eventual EU membership may be halted if Belgrade fails to hand over Mr Mladic.

The former Bosnian Serb wartime general has been on the run since 1995. He has been charged with genocide and other crimes related to the Bosnian war.

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