BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro – War crimes fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the Bosnian war, has been located and authorities are negotiating his surrender, a top state security official said Tuesday.
Mladic was located but "he has yet not been arrested," the official, who is close to the operation to locate Mladic, told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The state news agency Tanjug reported that Mladic was arrested in Belgrade and being taken to a U.S.-run air base for transport to the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
However, the prime minister's spokesman denied the Tanjug report that Mladic was arrested.
Srdjan Djuric, spokesman for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, told the AP in a statement that Mladic had not been arrested. He called the report a "manipulation" to attempt to derail the government's efforts to detain the wartime Bosnian Serb army commander, who has been on the run since the 1990s.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Mladic "continues to be a fugitive from justice." When asked if Mladic had been arrested or apprehended, Ereli replied he was not aware of either occurring.
The conflicting reports caused confusion in Belgrade. There have been numerous incorrect reports in the past that Mladic was captured.
Mladic is wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal on genocide charges for allegedly orchestrating Europe's worst carnage since World War II — the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in 1995 — and for other crimes during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
Serbia, seeking to establish closer ties with the European Union and NATO, faces renewed international isolation if it fails to extradite Mladic to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
European Union officials have warned that Serbia's initial talks on joining the 25-nation bloc could be frozen unless Mladic is handed over by the end of February.
Officials at the EU and NATO said they had no information about Mladic's reported arrest.
Earlier Tuesday, senior Kostunica aide Vladeta Jankovic predicted Mladic would be captured "soon."
"Those who are searching have all means and are in full swing" in efforts to capture Mladic, Jankovic said. He said the government wanted to persuade Mladic to surrender voluntarily.
However, Jankovic said later Tuesday that he had no information on whether Mladic's hiding place had been located or whether the government was involved in any negotiations for his surrender.
The private Beta news agency also reported that "an operation was in progress to locate" Mladic. The Belgrade-based agency did not name the source of its report, and there was no official confirmation of the alleged operation.
Mladic is No. 2 on the tribunal's most-wanted list after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large. Mladic, who is at least 62, has a $5 million State Department bounty on his head. He was known to have made daring forays into Belgrade in recent years to watch soccer games and feast on fish at an elite restaurant.
Under an indictment last amended in October 2002, the U.N. war crimes tribunal charged Mladic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in 1992-1996.
If tried and convicted, Mladic faces life imprisonment, the tribunal's maximum punishment. The U.N. court has no death penalty.