BELGRADE, Serbia – BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The family of Europe's most-wanted fugitive, Bosnian Serb wartime military commander Ratko Mladic, is seeking to have him declared officially dead but authorities said Tuesday that the hunt for the genocide suspect will continue.
Mladic's family lawyer Milos Saljic said he would submit a motion to the Serbian courts this month arguing that the former Bosnian Serb army commander is in poor health and has not been seen in years. The move appears designed to undermine efforts by Serbia's pro-Western authorities to locate Mladic, who has been on the run since 1995 and whose arrest is crucial for Serbia's bid to become a member of the European Union.
"The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladic is no longer alive," Saljic told the Associated Press by telephone. "No one has seen him for seven years."
Bruno Vekaric, deputy Serbian war crimes prosecutor who is with the team searching for Mladic, dismissed the family's initiative as "speculation."
"We are continuing with our job in order to fulfill Serbia's international obligations," Vekaric said.
Mladic was charged with genocide by the U.N. court in The Hague, Netherlands, for allegedly orchestrating the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica and other atrocities of the Bosnian war.
U.N. court officials believe Mladic is hiding in Serbia, where he enjoys support among nationalist hard-liners who consider him a war hero.
According to Serbian officials, Mladic's whereabouts have been last tracked to 2005. Police have since searched his family home in a Belgrade residential area on several occasions, confiscating documents, including Mladic's war diaries that have been handed over to the U.N. prosecutors.
Lawyer Saljic said the family wants Mladic declared dead "because it wants to put an end to everyday pressure and prosecution."
Saljic insisted that Mladic, now 68, had been a "very sick man." He said Mladic had a stroke in 1996, as well as other illnesses for which he had been treated at a Belgrade military hospital in the past.
"Under the circumstances, and considering the conditions he would be living in while on the run, it is normal to assume that he is not alive," Saljic said. "If he were alive, he would have to seek medical help."
Saljic claimed that the family has had no contact with Mladic for years. He said that "Mladic was very attached to his family and if he were alive he would find the way to contact them and tell them that he is well."
There was no immediate comment from the Serbian courts.
Associated Press Writer Radul Radovanovic contributed to this report from Pale, Bosnia.