BELGRADE (AFP) — UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz expressed "careful optimism" here Wednesday about Belgrade's efforts to arrest Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic on a visit crucial for Serbia's EU aspirations.
Brammertz, whose two-day visit is his first since Bosnian Serb genocide suspect Radovan Karadzic's arrest in July, met with a Serbian "Action Team" formed to track down Mladic and the only other fugitive, wartime Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.
"The commitment and expertise of the team allow me to express a careful optimism that the search for the remaining fugitives Mladic and Hadzic will also be successful," Brammertz told reporters in Belgrade.
Serbia hopes Brammertz will tell Brussels next week that it is fully cooperating with the UN war crimes court in The Hague, a condition for the European Union to unfreeze a trade and aid pact with Serbia seen as a first step towards membership.
"The arrests of the two remaining fugitives remain the key objective of our cooperation," Brammertz said after holding talks with Rasim Ljajic, Serbia's minister in charge of cooperation with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Ljajic said Belgrade expected EU officials to "value adequately what we have done in our cooperation with the ICTY.
"We are aware of the remaining obligations, we know that the work is not finished yet and we will do everything to arrest remaining suspects and hand them over to the tribunal," Ljajic said.
Brammertz also met with his Serbian counterpart, Vladimir Vukcevic, who told AFP on the eve of the trip that the hunt for Mladic had been stepped up, under Belgrade's new West-leaning government, and now involved 10,000 officials.
The bid to capture Mladic "has always been intense, but my feeling is that it's been intensified even more now as this new government insists" on ending the issue, Vukcevic said in an interview.
On Thursday, Brammertz is scheduled to gather with President Boris Tadic, Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic and Sasa Vukadinovic, who was appointed head of police intelligence just days before Karadzic's arrest.
Serbia's pro-EU government, headed by Tadic's Democrats, has been bolstered by parliament's ratification of the EU accord on Tuesday, after weeks of opposition obstruction.
However, the application of the Stabilisation and Association Accord (SAA) was frozen under pressure from the Netherlands and Belgium, who insisted on full Serb co-operation with the ICTY for further rapprochement.
In Brussels on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed hope for some movement next week on the stalled SAA pact with Serbia.
"I hope very much by the 15th of this month we will be able to unblock the situation of the interim agreement" at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Solana told members of the European Parliament.
The new Belgrade government took over on July 7 from one headed by former nationalist prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, who favoured voluntary surrenders of war crimes fugitives.
Within two weeks, Karadzic was caught while riding a Belgrade bus under the stolen identity of "Dragan Dabic," an alternative medicine guru disguised with long hair and a bushy beard.
In his interview, Vukcevic said it was unlikely that Mladic had taken a new identity like Karadzic.
"I believe the two have completely different psychological profiles," Vukcevic told AFP.
"I cannot claim whether (Mladic) is in Serbia or not, but my estimate, based on all collected information so far, is that he is hiding in Serbia," said Vukcevic.
Officials in Serbia previously stated the military protected Mladic until 2002 and he hid in various Belgrade apartments and received a pension up until 2005.
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