European Union foreign ministers threatened Monday to freeze talks with Serbia on its EU membership bid, setting a March deadline for Belgrade to hand over war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned Belgrade that talks scheduled for April could be postponed if Mladic has not been handed over to the U.N. war crimes tribunal by the end of March, his spokeswoman said.
“It means that there is some more time until the end of March” for them to cooperate with the tribunal, said Rehn’s spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy.
Rehn, who is leading EU talks with Belgrade on a pre-membership aid and trade deal, had previously set an informal end of February deadline for Belgrade to cooperate.
Nagy said Rehn told the EU foreign ministers that if no progress had been made before the next round of negotiations planned for April 5, talks could be frozen.
Vow to get tough
The EU foreign ministers called on both Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia to “take resolute measures ... to bring to justice” Mladic and another top war crimes suspect, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the EU had to get tough with Belgrade, just as it did with Croatia last year, to hand over indicted war criminals.
“The message has to be unless these countries like Serbia cooperate with the criminal tribunal in The Hague, and hand over indicted war criminals, they cannot expect the full cooperation from the European Union in return,” said Straw.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus had said earlier Monday he expected “a very sharp warning” from the EU foreign ministers. He expressed hopes that Mladic would be in The Hague before the April meeting.
“Now, it all depends on the capability of the (security) services,” Labus told private B-92 radio. “They were given a clear mandate by the government” to arrest Mladic.
Contradictory statements in Belgrade last week generated confusion about how close authorities were to capturing Mladic, including reports that he had already been arrested.
Labus said that he did not know the whereabouts of Mladic, adding that he was getting all his information from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.
“I believe him,” Labus said. “I’m not it touch with the security services.”
Wanted for massacre
Mladic and Karadzic were indicted in 1995 on charges of orchestrating the massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in the U.N. enclave of Srebrenica — Europe’s worst carnage since World War II.
Mladic is believed to be hiding in Serbia under protection of the hard-liners in the Serb military and police — loyalists of the former autocratic President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000 by a reformist coalition. Karadzic reportedly has been hiding and moving between Bosnia, Serbia and his native Montenegro.
Rehn and Austria’s Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, was to meet with Serbia-Montenegro’s Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic later Monday to discuss his country’s cooperation with the U.N. tribunal.