BELGRADE, Serbia-Montenegro – Serbia's prime minister said Wednesday a crackdown on the support network of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic has left him "hiding all alone," and he urged the former army general to surrender.
But the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor in The Hague, Netherlands, accused Serbia of misleading her by insisting two months ago that Mladic's arrest was imminent. She said the ex-army commander is in the Belgrade region, changing apartments daily.
In response to the failure to deliver Mladic to the U.N. tribunal by an April 30 deadline, the European Union said it has suspended pre-membership talks with Serbia-Montenegro.
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his government has "done absolutely everything in its power" to capture Mladic and send him to the war crimes tribunal.
"His entire network has been uncovered; Mladic is now hiding all alone," he said in a statement made available to The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus resigned, citing the government's failure to arrest Mladic and the EU's action.
"Our government, contrary to (prime minister's) explicit promise, has failed to secure political conditions for continued talks (with the EU), thereby betrayed the most important interest of the country and citizens of Serbia," Labus, Serbia's chief negotiator with the European Union, said in his resignation letter to Kostunica.
Mladic — indicted by the U.N. court for genocide in the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, Europe's worst massacre since World War II — was believed by U.N. war crimes prosecutors to be hiding in Serbia under the protection of hard-liners in the army. He commanded the Bosnian Serb forces during the 1991-95 Bosnian war in which an estimated 200,000 people were killed.
The EU said aid and trade talks with Serbia could be quickly restarted — "but only if there is dramatic improvement in cooperation" with the U.N. tribunal, said EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn.
"Serbia must show that nobody is above the law and that anybody indicted for serious crimes will face justice," Rehn said.
Kostunica said "the EU suspension inflicts enormous damage to the government and our country."
"It would be best for everyone for Ratko Mladic to follow the example of other officers and go to The Hague," Kostunica said referring to about a dozen other Serb army officers who have surrendered to the tribunal.
"Never in our history has the entire state and nation been made to suffer because of one officer," Kostunica said. "By hiding, Ratko Mladic is inflicting enormous damage to our state and national interests."
The statement appeared to be a desperate move by Kostunica to persuade Mladic to surrender since Serbian security services failed to do the job.
Cabinet minister Velimir Ilic was even more specific.
"We arrested several of his aides and bodyguards and discovered several of his hiding places where he used to hide, but he wasn't there," Ilic said. "Certain (security) services shouldn't have allowed that to happen."
Indicating that the hunt for Mladic will continue, Kostunica said it "is now a technical matter to discover the location where Mladic is hiding."
But U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said Serbian authorities knew Mladic's location as recently as 10 days ago — and could have arrested him before he disappeared again.
She said she suspected Mladic was eluding arrest with help from inside information about authorities' efforts to track him. Del Ponte said she was unconvinced Belgrade had a "focused and coordinated plan" for Mladic's arrest, calling Serbia's handling of the case "unprofessional."
She said the failure to deliver Mladic to The Hague for trial means "that I was misled when I was told at the end of March that the arrest of Mladic was a matter of days or weeks," and any expectation that he could be induced to surrender "is completely unrealistic and simply wrong."