Deep divisions remain where Ratko Mladic is believed to have authorised some of the worst atrocities in post-WWII Europe.
By Bedrana Kaletović for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo – 27/05/11
Malic Zuhra, a Muslim woman, watches the news on wartime General Ratko Mladic's arrest in Potocari near Srebrenica. [Reuters]
The room is silent except for the TV in one corner. Hanging on the walls are pictures of those who either went missing or were killed when Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, a UN-designated safe haven, on July 11th 1995.
At the headquarters of Women of Srebrenica, an NGO dedicated to uncovering the truth about the massacre, members are watching coverage of an event they have long hoped for. Ratko Mladic, the former general believed to have authorised the execution of as many as 8,000 men and boys, was apprehended by Serbian police.
"I have been waiting for 16 years to hear of this murderer's arrest," says Hajra Catić, president of the organisation, as the TV broadcasts an image of her son, whose body has never been found.
"My son and husband are gone, nobody will return them to me, as they cannot return the rest of my family members either, but at least now I know that justice has been served and that the biggest criminal responsible for the Srebrenica massacre has been caught."
Sabaheta Fejzić, a Srebrenica survivor, is relieved that Mladic will no longer enjoy impunity from his actions.
"This is a piece of justice for all the victims of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) genocides," she tells SETimes. "Mladic has long enjoyed his life now, as he left the countless dead and unhappy families behind him."
"I hope that in Mladic's case, The Hague tribunal will not be so indecisive as it had been with Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzić, and that it will not allow us to demean our tragedy in the comfort of a courtroom," she added.
BiH remains a highly polarised country, and Mladic still has supporters among the Serbs. Some even dub him a hero. Branislav Dukic, head of a Bosnian Serb organisation of war victims, said he was gravely disappointed.
In a surprise move, however, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik did not criticise Belgrade for arresting Mladic and preparing to extradite him. Instead, he said the arrest marked the fulfilment of Serbia's commitments under the Dayton Accords – commitments undertaken by all countries that were involved in the conflict.
"The institutions of Republika Srpska have never defended, nor will they defend, anyone who committed war crimes, regardless of his nationality or religious orientation," Dodik said, adding that he hoped senior officials and generals of the BiH army will also be prosecuted.
Bakir Izetbegovic, son of BiH's wartime head of state and a current member of the tripartite presidency, says the news provides hope that the truth about wartime atrocities will be finally uncovered.
"This arrest is a base for the further process of peace making in the region, to which end one must mention that the arrest came from Serbia's official institutions with the help of those of BiH," he said.