Belgrade, Washington and the United Nations war crimes court in The Hague all denied reports sweeping Serbia on Tuesday that the former Bosnian Serb Army commander was in custody.
   
On Wednesday, the Serb dailies Glas Javnosti and Blic and the Bosnian Serb newspaper Nezavisne Novine said the 63-year-old fugitive was now at a secure location negotiating terms of his surrender with the government.
   
The talks were said to be taking place at a monastery, or a hunting lodge, or a village with an underground rocket base.
   
Earlier reports said Mladic was tracked down in Serbia then taken to Bosnia, to defuse nationalist anger at home but still salvage Belgrade's talks with the European Union on its membership prospects, up for review in seven days.
   
Srdjan Djuric, the government spokesman, said: "The news about Ratko Mladic is not correct."

"It is a manipulation which damages the (Serbian) government." 

EU decision
   
The EU decides next week on whether to continue talks with Belgrade or freeze them as punishment for not arresting Mladic.

His handover is increasingly seen by many Serbs as a necessary sacrifice, but others view him as a blameless soldier.
   
Mladic was indicted along with his political boss Radovan Karadzic in 1995 for genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, which claimed 12,000 lives, and for orchestrating the 1995 massacre of 8000 unarmed Muslims at Srebrenica
.

Serbia is under intense pressure from the European Union and the US to capture Mladic, charged by the war crimes tribunal with genocide.

Milosevic was ousted as president
in 2002

EU officials had given Serbia until the end of February -  in a week - to hand Mladic over to The Hague, and threatened to freeze EU membership talks otherwise.

Mladic, who was head of the Bosnian Serb army during the war, is No. 2 on the tribunal's most-wanted list after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large.

He went into hiding in 2002 when Slobodan Milosevic was ousted as president.

Charges

Mladic, 62, who has a $5 million US State Department bounty on his head, was known to have made daring forays into Belgrade in recent years to dine and to watch soccer games.

Under an indictment last amended in October 2002, the UN war crimes tribunal charged Mladic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity from 1992-95.

If convicted, Mladic faces life imprisonment, the tribunal's maximum punishment. The UN court has no death penalty.

An estimated 200,000 people died during the Bosnian war and half the country's prewar population of four million were displaced.