Ratko Mladic arrest: Anger and relief in Bosnia

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Srebrenica survivor Kada Hotic watches a video of Gen Ratko Mladic (June 2009)
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Srebrenica survivors like Kada Hotic, seen here watching a video of Gen Mladic, are angry that it took so long to arrest him

It was the news the survivors of Srebrenica had been waiting for since 1995. There was relief that Gen Ratko Mladic had at last been arrested, but also grief for those who had died - and, for some, anger.

Kada Hotic was among those Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) who crowded into the UN compound near Srebrenica when the town fell to Gen Mladic's forces in July 1995. She was put on a bus to Bosniak-held territory; her son, husband and brothers were killed.

"For all those years this monster was hidden by Serbia and they knew where he was," she said. "Now they are handing him over to justice. Well, better late than never. But I'm afraid of another trial without a verdict."

Gen Mladic, 69, has been rumoured to be suffering from kidney disease. Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague in March 2006, just after his trial at the war crimes tribunal had entered its fifth year.

"I'm afraid that due to this very long process of the International War Crimes Tribunal probably like in the case of Slobodan Milosevic, unless something else happens, the victims will not see justice served," Muhamed Durakovic told the BBC's Newshour programme. Aged 20 in 1995, he escaped from Srebrenica the day before it fell.

'A real Serb'

But there was anger among Bosnian Serbs.

In Pale, the wartime capital of the Bosnian Serbs, one resident told the Reuters news agency: "I've heard that Gen Mladic was arrested, but I can't believe it."

"I feel sorry for Mladic, he was a real Serb," said another. "He will be a Serb for ever."

And some described Serbian President Boris Tadic as a traitor.

Serbia itself is gradually coming to terms with what its forces did and what was done in its name in Bosnia. In contrast, many Serbs within Bosnia remain unreconciled.

They reject the country's post-war political settlement, the Dayton peace agreement. This created two ethnically based entities, the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, within a unitary Bosnian state.

Only a minority of non-Serb refugees have returned to the Republika Srpska to live, and the political leadership is hostile to the Bosnian state.

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik said the arrest fulfilled international obligations under Dayton.

"The institutions of the RS never stood or will stand in defence of anyone who has committed war crimes, regardless of ethnicity or religion," he said.

But what his statement did not say - and for his public, did not have to say - was that Republika Srpska has never fully accepted that what happened at Srebrenica was a war crime.

Divisions remain

Last year, the Serbian parliament passed a resolution apologising for Srebrenica. In response, Republika Srpska issued a statement calling into question its previous recognition of the facts and claiming that the numbers of those killed had been inflated.

Earlier this month, the Bosnian Serb political leadership planned to hold a referendum on rejecting the institutions of the unitary Bosnian state, in particular the state court, which has responsibility for war crimes cases.

The referendum was cancelled at the last minute, but it showed the depth of the divisions that remain.

Many Bosniaks hope the arrest of Gen Mladic will help change that.

"That man was ready to order killing of thousands of innocent men and boys and after that he was not ready to face the justice, he was hiding himself and he allowed to be arrested in this way," said Bakir Izetbegovic, son of wartime Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic, and now a member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency himself.

"And it is helpful for those who considered him as a hero to understand what kind of man was Gen Mladic."

Many Serbs regard the tribunal in The Hague as biased against them, but Bosnia's ambassador to the UK, Jadranka Negodic, told the BBC Gen Mladic's arrest was part of the process of resolution.

"At the end of the day, it will be justice, and justice will prevail," she said. "The people in Bosnia have always have a trust that justice will come."