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Former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic was indicted by the International War Crime Tribunal in 1995. He was accused of, among other things, genocide against thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. Arrested this morning after 16 years of hiding, Kojo learns more about Mladic and the legacy of his crimes in the Balkans today.
- Marko Prelec Balkans Project Director, International Crisis Group; and former Research Officer for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (1999-2005)
ITN Video on Mladic and Srebrenica
Former British UN Commander in Bosnia Bob Stewart MP says he is delighted alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic has been arrested:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, new doping allegations against Lance Armstrong and the NFL lockout. Why some say football's owners and players are behaving like, well, dopes. We'll talk with Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, a top war crime suspect is arrested in Serbia. Fifteen years ago, the world was shocked by the massacre in Srebrenica in the former Yugoslavia. In July of 1995, forces lead by General Ratko Mladic laid siege to the small Bosnian enclave. Thousands of -- tens of thousands of Muslim civilians were being protected by a small contingent of Dutch peacekeepers. But when the siege was over, 8,000 Muslim men and boys had been murdered in the worst war crime in Europe since World War II. For 15 years, Mladic evaded capture until today.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss this is Marko Prelec. He is Director of the Balkans Project at the International Crisis Group. He was previously a Research Officer in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He joins us by telephone from Dubrovnik. Marko, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARKO PRELECYou're very welcome. It's a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIThe massacre at Srebrenica is commonly called the worst war crime committed in Europe since World War II. But actually going back and reading what happened in July, 1995 one literally gets goose bumps. What actually happened in Srebrenica and why was Ratko Mladic the most wanted fugitive in that part of the world?
PRELECWell, it's almost unimaginable. and you're right, it's very creepy and disturbing to put your mind back to that time. What basically happened was that the Bosnian Serb Army wanted to take control of the entire eastern part of the country. And in the course of doing so a decision was taken by Mladic and others -- his boss Radovan Karadzic now on trial in The Hague -- to kill every living male Bosnian Muslim that they caught in that Srebrenica area.
PRELECI think this was a kind of spasms of hatred and revenge -- imagined revenge going back to some atrocities that took place in World War II. I think it was also a kind of viciously coldblooded practical calculation. The Bosnian Serbs were about to start losing, in fact, the war they'd been fighting for several years. And I think decided that they simply could not allow 8,000 able bodied men to eventually join the -- to be exchanged in a prisoner exchange and to take up arms once again against them.
NNAMDIWe've got a link at our website kojoshow.org to a BBC timeline of events there. You can go there if you'd like to take a look at that. But Marko, talk a little bit about the role of the Dutch peacekeepers in all of this.
PRELECWell, that was a particularly sad thing and it's been a very traumatic experience for Holland. The Dutch government, as you may know fell, you know, years back out of a sense of guilt and responsibility for allowing this to happen. But these were -- this was a small sort of tripwire force that was in no way capable of fighting off the Bosnian Serb Army. It really was a failure that was much broader, the failure to protect the Bosniacs in Serbia. So it was much broader than the Netherlands.
PRELECIt's really the failure of the International Community, of the United Nations, of the United States all of whom I think froze at the critical moment when it became clear what was going to happen and simply could not muster the will to intervene to protect the Muslims from certain death.
NNAMDIThe number here is 800-433-8850. What reaction did you have to the arrest of Ratko Mladic, 800-433-8850, or how has the International Community changed since the Srebrenica massacre? Has the International Community learned the lessons of July, 1995? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIProminent Serbian President Boris Tadic made the announcement today and even that seems significant. Some people thought that this would never happen, the elected leader of the Serbs handing over a person who was once considered a patriot. First, what is the significance of this announcement and second, what does it say about where Serbia is now compared to 15 years ago?
PRELECI wanna say I was surprised and delighted by this news and I think Serbia really deserves congratulations for having done this. I think we also have to recognize that the European Union deserves a big hand for having kept the pressure on Serbia and having made it clear that they can't really hope to become a member of the European Union, which Serbia very much wants to do, without -- but they couldn't do that without turning over Ratko Mladic.
PRELECThe fact that he was hiding, you know, almost in plain sight in a village in Vojvodina I think does show that this was really something that was overdue in coming. But I'm particularly encouraged by the reaction of the people in Serbia. There really has -- there have been no, at least as far as I've heard, no sort of mass demonstrations, no outpouring of nationalist support beyond, of course, some individuals of the sort that we saw years back when Karadzic was arrested.
PRELECAnd likewise, I think in Bosnia, the Serbs there, you've seen some people saying they think he's innocent but still needs to go to The Hague to face charges.
PRELECThere's -- things are changing in Serbia and among the Serbs, changing in a good way.
NNAMDIAnd you are encouraged by that. Exactly what do you think is changing? Because we remember that there used to be that when Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001 there were mass demonstrations. This time they don't expect an outpouring of support for Mladic and you say that is an encouraging sign. But why do you think it's happening?
PRELECWell, I think we have a new generation not only in leadership in Serbia and in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity in Bosnia, but also a sort of generational change among the people. You know, as you say, it's been 16 years since this happened. You have -- you know, college kids today barely remember -- barely know anything about this. To them it's something like the Vietnam War. And I think there's also been a slow -- painfully slow acknowledgment among the Serbs that yes, they did commit -- their forces committed terrible, terrible crimes.
PRELECThey still have a long way to go in that there's still a lot of denial both in Serbia and especially in Republika Srpska. Still a sense that they're being accused unfairly and I think there still needs to be a lot of soul searching there. But the progress has been enormous. Nobody -- no important political figure stands up today to say that Mladic's a hero or that this is really wrong. That the most people have been saying is, well, that they're not happy. So that's a big step forward.
NNAMDIWe're talking, in case you're just joining us, with Marko Prelec. He is the Director of the Balkans Project at the International Crisis Group, previously a Research Officer in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He joins us by telephone from Dubrovnik in Croatia. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How has the International Community, in your view, changed since the Srebrenica massacre? 800-433-8850.
PRELECMarko, you mentioned the timing of this and even though some see it as a sign of progress, the question why it happened at this time and you mentioned Serbia wanting to join the European Nation -- European Union the next few weeks seen as being particularly important. Apparently the prosecutor in The Hague was on the verge of issuing a report that said the Serbian government was not cooperating in the search. Is that correct?
PRELECYeah, Serbia -- the government had been told that this would be the most negative report to date. So they were, I think, given a wakeup call that was a long time coming. Serbia hopes to not only become a candidate for European Union membership this year, but they would also like to have a commitment to a date when they can start negotiations. A technical step they have to take.
PRELECI think unfortunately there is probably a bit of thinking in Belgrade that they can use the Mladic arrest to escape some of the pressure that their on another front to settle their relations with former Serbian Province of Kosovo. And that, I think, is probably not going to happen. I think they're still going to have to cross some difficult bridges on Kosovo.
NNAMDIThere have been different reports about where Mladic actually is right now. But everyone expects him to end up in The Hague at the war crimes tribunal. We got a call from somebody who says, "Where has he been and what has he been doing all this time?" For many years he apparently lived in the open. And when he did eventually go into hiding a lot of people suspected he was given protection by elements in the Serbian government. Is that correct, Marko?
PRELECYeah. I mean, the circle that Mladic moved in contracted, you know, gradually over those 15 years. And, yes indeed, for the first few years he and all the others moved completely openly, even while Bosnia was occupied by something like 50 or 60,000 NATO and allied troops. After that, he took a somewhat lower profile in Serbia that had the open support of (word?) government and the governments that followed unfortunately, the governments that followed as well.
PRELECWhen the current government, the democratic party government of Boris Tadic came into power about four or five years ago they cut off support for Mladic and shortly after that began actually cooperating with The Hague to look for him. But there were still -- he still had a lot of loyalists, a lot of people both in the security services, in the army, in the Serbian intelligence community, personal friends who were willing to help him and hide him.
PRELECThe curious thing is the name he chose to hid under was simply a very simple acronym for Ratko Mladic. So he was not -- he was almost thumbing his nose, in fact, at people. And he was just hiding in a little village, not really trying particularly hard. Unlike the theatrical steps that Radovan Karadzic had gone through becoming a kind of satiric satyr with a big bushy Santa Claus beard.
NNAMDIFifteen years ago, the International Community viewed questions of humanitarianism and questions of intervention that would appear through a very different lens. There was a time when the words nation building were pretty toxic in Washington. But looking at where we stand right now what do you feel has been the long term affect of the international intervention in the Balkans?
PRELECWell, it's still reverberating. The Balkans are unfortunately far from settled. Bosnia, you know, had an election last October. And here we are in May and they still don't have a government. So we have a seven-month deadlock. Kosovo broke away from Serbia three years ago and has been recognized by most of the countries of the European Union but not all. So its international status is still disputed. Macedonia's doing a very intense election right now. It's still a seismically active part of Europe.
PRELECBut I think the one thing that the military intervention to end the war first in Bosnia and then later in Kosovo has accomplished is it's really taken war off the table so to speak. As unsettled as things are, we really don't have a fear that there's going to be a return to violent conflict. Nothing like what happened back in the early '90s. And that's a good thing. That's a real achievement.
NNAMDII should mention that we just -- we're getting a report today that Congolese authorities have arrested Bernard Munyagishari, former head of a Rwandan ethnic Hutu militia, wanted by the international criminal court for Rwanda on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is accused of training and leading militia men in mass killings and rapes of ethnic Tutsi women in northwestern Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
NNAMDIHow significant is it, Marko, given the arrest of this individual, that in the case of Srebrenica, it's one of the first times the U.N. declared rape as a war crime and it looks like, if Bernard Munyagishari is also going to be charged similarly?
PRELECThat was something that developed in the case law of the international criminal tribunal from Yugoslavia. It's the first time that rape was really defined as a war crime. Prosecuted successfully, people were convicted for rape as a war crime. And it was clearly a war crime. Not just a crime of opportunity. I think, my knowledge, I'd be honest about the war -- the genocide in Rwanda and the war in Congo.
PRELECAnd the RC is relatively sketchy. But from what I hear, it was a much more widespread practice there and in some ways still is a practice in parts of Congo, unfortunately. So, I guess, the lesson is, you know, criminalizing this really -- is really only the first step. It still takes a long way and I would also add the fact that we've now, sort of, finally got the last of the big people from Yugoslavia. The big fugitives. There's one, sort of, smaller person left at large.
PRELECDoesn't mean that the task is over. There are still many, many perpetrators who are on trial, who are charged for being sought in Bosnia, especially in Bosnia but also elsewhere in the Balkans. And certainly in Africa and other parts of the world.
NNAMDIMarko Prelec, thank you for joining us.
PRELECYou're very welcome, it's a pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIMarko is director of the Balkans Project at the International Crisis Group. He was previously a research officer in the office of the prosecutor of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Washington Post columnist, Sally Jenkins about the NFL lockout, new doping allegations against Lance Armstrong and much more. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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