General Ratko Mladic will order his own bodyguards to kill him rather than allowing himself to be captured and face trial at The Hague, Serbian officials fear.
By Gordon Rayner and Alex Todorovic in Belgrade
Last Updated: 7:10PM BST 24 Jul 2008
Mladic, who is now Europe's most wanted war crimes suspect following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, must be handed over to international prosecutors before Serbia can be considered for membership of the EU.
But the former army commander, who faces charges of genocide if caught, is thought to have two armed guards constantly at his side, who would be unlikely to give up without a fight.
Serbian intelligence sources quoted in the Belgrade media said hunting down Mladic was altogether a different prospect from snatching Karadzic, who was taken without a fight on a No. 73 bus in Belgrade last Friday.
“The latest analysis is that he is living in an urban environment in Serbia with two security guards who are under orders to shoot him before he is captured,” said one source.
Mladic disappeared following the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and since then has reportedly been spotted in Russia, Romania and Hungary, as well as in Serbia and neighbouring Montenegro.
Dozens of raids have been carried out on addresses linked to him, and in some cases he is known to have fled just half an hour before intelligence agents arrived, leading to speculation that he is being tipped off by insiders.
Mladic, who directed the siege of Sarajevo and supervised the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995, retains a hard core of support among Serb nationalists who still regard him as a hero.
Posters of Mladic, with the words “We will not betray you”, were among the most tangible signs of support for him on the streets yesterday.
Meanwhile the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, stepped up the pressure on Serbia to hand over Mladic, saying: “The Serbs are making a step forward in closing an ugly chapter in their past, and I just hope that Mladic is next.”
She said the arrest of Karadzic was “a step forward for Serbia”, adding: “It showed tremendous will on the part of this new Serbian government.
“As most of Europe was moving forward after the Cold War, the Balkans of course fell into extreme darkness. This is one more step to an end to that great nightmare.”
Paddy Ashdown, the UN's representative in Bosnia between May 2002 and January 2006, said Karadzic's arrest meant the net was probably closing in on Mladic.
“He's now completely isolated. My guess is his days must be numbered,” he said.