BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro -- In its harshest terms yet, the European Union sharply criticized Serbia's failure to hand over accused war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic and broke off talks yesterday with the Balkan state aimed at admitting it to the EU.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his government has been unable to find and arrest Mladic and urged him to surrender. The escalating crisis threatened to undermine Kostunica's fragile grasp on power, and his reform-minded deputy quit in disgust.
The turn of events was set in motion by Belgrade's latest failure to meet an EU deadline for delivering Mladic to the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Mladic commanded the Bosnian Serb army during the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995. He was indicted on genocide and other war crimes charges in 1995 and remains a fugitive.
Despite reports that Mladic was being protected by elements of the state security services, Kostunica insisted yesterday that his government had exhausted every effort to capture him. Authorities have succeeded in dismantling Mladic's support network, Kostunica said, and he is now isolated, "hiding completely alone."
Officials of the EU and The Hague, however, clearly had lost patience with Belgrade. They accused Kostunica of misleading them when he promised six weeks ago that Mladic's extradition was imminent.
Serbia has much riding on its aspirations to eventually join the EU, and fallout came swiftly.
Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who led negotiations with potential European partners, submitted his resignation and told Kostunica that the government had "betrayed one of the most important interests" of the Serbian people.