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War crimes prosecutor urges EU to keep up pressure on Serbia to arrest Ratko Mladic

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Serbia still is not doing all it can to arrest key Bosnian war fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic and the European Union must keep the pressure on Belgrade to hunt him down, the chief prosecutor for the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal said Monday.

In his toughest comments since taking office three years ago, prosecutor Serge Brammertz said failing to arrest Mladic would be a body blow not only to the tribunal and to victims of Serb atrocities in Bosnia's 1992-1995 war but to other courts trying to mete out international justice.

"The non-arrest of Mladic would be the worst signal you could give to all future tribunals," Brammertz told members of the Foreign Press Association in The Hague. "It would somehow give the signal to perpetrators that you can sit out international justice; that political interest is diminishing over time and that at the end of the day impunity prevails."

Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military chief, was indicted 15 years ago for atrocities including the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and the deadly hail of shells and snipers' bullets unleashed on the city of Sarajevo during a 44-month siege by Serb forces.

There was no immediate reaction Monday from Belgrade.

Brammertz's comments were a blunt challenge to growing momentum in the European Union to push Serbia further along the path to joining the 27-nation bloc as a reward for watering down a hardline resolution on Kosovo's independence at the United Nations.

Serbia is being blocked from joining the EU until Brammertz says Belgrade is fully cooperating with his office. Serbia also vehemently opposes the independence of Kosovo, which formally broke away from Serbia in 2008.

But the EU's Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fuele, said last week in Belgrade that following the Kosovo resolution "the time has come for the EU to tackle seriously the application of Serbia to join the European Union."

Brammertz insisted now is not the time to ease off the pressure. His office has no police force and relies on countries to execute its arrest warrants.

"Political support from the European capitals and from Brussels is of paramount importance" in pressing Serbia to arrest Mladic and the only other remaining fugitive, former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic, he said.

Brammertz said geopolitical interests should not be given precedence over the fight against impunity.

He also noted that the tribunal cannot wait indefinitely for Mladic to be arrested, as the U.N. Security Council is pushing it to complete all its cases and shut its doors for good.

"We have no time. This tribunal is closing down in three years," he said. "We need the arrests now in order to be able to have a trial which represents the magnitude of the crimes committed."

Serbian authorities insist they are doing all they can to track down Mladic, but Brammertz said he sensed "a gap" between political pronouncements and the action he sees on the ground.

"More has to be done," he said. "More resources, more professionalism in order to have the fugitives arrested."

Brammertz said his determination to bring Mladic to justice was reinforced over the summer when he visited Srebrenica for the first time and spoke with survivors on the 15th anniversary of Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

He said the key demand of survivors, some of whom lost up to 40 relatives in the slaughter, was for Mladic to be arrested.

"(They knew) that it will not bring back their loved ones but there will be at least some accountability for crimes committed," he said.