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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 March 2006, 21:01 GMT 22:01 UK
Serbia urges patience over Mladic
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Belgrade

Gen Mladic
General Mladic has been indicted over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre
The Serbian government has urged the UN to show understanding in its efforts to arrest the former head of the Bosnian Serb military, Ratko Mladic.

Top UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte has been visiting Belgrade ahead of an EU deadline next week for the handover of Mr Mladic.

The EU has said it will disrupt talks on closer ties with Belgrade unless Gen Mladic is apprehended.

Mr Mladic is accused of war crimes dating to the Bosnian conflict.

Under pressure

Ms del Ponte came to Belgrade hoping for confirmation that the Serbian authorities would send Mr Mladic to The Hague to face the most serious war crimes charges arising from the Bosnian war.

She didn't get it. The UN's chief prosecutor made no comment to the media.

However, the Serbian government said it had asked her to understand what it called "a complex political situation".

It urged her not to recommend that the EU disrupt talks with Serbia and Montenegro if it fails to meet the 5 April deadline.

Serbia's weak, moderate government is in charge of a country largely hostile to The Hague war crimes tribunal.

It is a government under pressure from Serb nationalists, and supporters of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.

His death while in the custody of the tribunal earlier this month has hardened attitudes here towards The Hague.

EU decision

Serbia's leaders say that if the UN breaks off negotiations, then political stability and the democratic reforms made since the fall of Mr Milosevic in 2000 will be threatened.

But others dismiss that as an exaggeration.

A spokeswoman for the UN prosecutor meanwhile reiterated that Mr Mladic was within reach of the Serbian authorities - they just don't want to arrest him, she said.

Belgrade now awaits a decision from the EU in less than a week.

The ex-Yugoslav state is in talks with the EU on establishing an association and stabilisation agreement - the first step towards eventual membership.

Speculation mounts

The Serbian authorities continue to deny knowledge of Mr Mladic's whereabouts while at the same time assuring the rest of the world that he will be apprehended soon.

Over recent weeks there has been intense speculation that negotiations for his surrender may be reaching fruition.

Mr Mladic has been on the run for a decade since he was charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity, mainly in connection with the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s and the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 in which nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serb forces.

His civilian counterpart at the time, Radovan Karadzic, is also on the run but very little is known about where he may be hiding.

In the years immediately following the Bosnian war, Mr Karadzic was regularly spotted by Nato peacekeepers who failed to arrest him.

Since then he has disappeared.

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