Relief, delight, greet Mladic arrest

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World leaders called for Ratko Mladic to be swiftly sent for trial Thursday after the arrest of the long-wanted Bosnian Serb warcrimes suspect as survivors expressed their relief at his capture.

European Union heads also said the arrest on Thursday eased the way for Serbia to join the bloc in the medium-term.

Mladic, 69, arrested in Serbia after almost 16 years on the run from the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is accused of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

He ordered and masterminded the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys as well as the 44-month siege of Sarajevo which cost an estimated 10,000 lives, according to the charges against him.

The survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre expressed satisfaction at his arrest.

"After 16 years of waiting, for us, the victims' families, this is a relief," Hajra Catic, head of the Srebrenica Women association, told AFP.

"For us, this is really very important," added Catic, whose son and husband were killed in the massacre.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it "an historic day" for international justice.

"It marks an important step in our will to end impunity," he said in Paris.

The cross-border police agency Interpol struck a similar note, with its head Ronald Noble hailing "a triumph for international justice."

US President Barack Obama applauded Serbia's President Boris Tadic for his "determined efforts" to ensure that Mladic faces justice.

"We look forward to his expeditious transfer to The Hague," where the ICTY is based, added Obama.

The ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz meanwhile said that the arrest meant Serbia "has fulfilled one of its international obligations".

"It is very important for the victims. When I learnt the news, I thought right away of the victims and the necessity to bring those responsible to justice for reconciliation," he said.

"This is an important step forward for Serbia and for international justice," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Belgrade, on a visit to help nudge the country towards EU membership.

"We have always strongly reiterated the EU's firm support to Serbia's European perspective," she said, adding that the early morning arrest was a positive development for the EU, for Serbia's neighbours, "but most of all for the rule of law in Serbia itself."

"This is very good news, it's very big news. This is... another step towards Serbia joining, one day soon, the European Union," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at the G8 summit in Deauville, France.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague meanwhile called it a "historic moment" for the region that brought western Balkan countries one step closer to joining the European Union.

The foreign ministers of Germany, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria all concurred, but Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte warned that it did not automatically mean Belgrade would join the EU.

Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative to Bosnia from 2002 to 2007, called the arrest a "great moment for the Balkans and for international justice".

"Mladic was one of the two primary architects of the Balkan horrors, including the worst acts of genocide on the European mainland for the last 50 years," he said.

"His forthcoming trial will be a chance for the whole Balkan region to put the past behind them and start building a secure European future."

The Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, Mladic's mentor who was captured in July 2008 and is currently on trial in The Hague, was said to be "sorry for General Mladic's loss of freedom," according to his lawyer.

In other reactions, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Mladic's arrest "finally offers a chance for justice to be done."

"Today we have seen an important step towards a Europe that is whole, free and at peace," he added.

But Russia's ambassador to NATO called for NATO generals to be tried alongside Mladic.

"But Serbia will not feel his guilt until ... it sees that members of the international community who shot at peaceful civilians are punished," often outspoken ambassador Dmitry Rogozin told Moscow Echo radio.

"We should be talking about the responsibility of NATO generals," he added.

The prime minister of Serbia's neighbour Croatia, Jadranka Kosor, said, "The arrest of Ratko Mladic is a good news for all of us, for the whole world ... It is good news in the context of reaching eventual justice, stability and final peace in this part of the world."

"We expect also the arrest of Goran Hadzic," she stressed, referring to the last remaining fugitive wanted by the ICTY.

Hadzic, the former president of the self-proclaimed Serb republic of Krajina in Croatia, is accused of the murder of hundreds of Croat civilians and the deportation of tens of thousands of Croats and other non-Serbs by Serb troops in Croatia.


© 2011 AFP

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