The first known attempt to arrest wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic took place in Kasindol, near Sarajevo on Wednesday, a statement by the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia said.
According to the 30 or so mourners, Italian SFOR troops backed by four helicopters entered Stana Mladic’s house at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT). The body of 84 year-old mother was in the house during the search.
But the operation did not result in the detention of Mladic and SFOR offered its condolences to the family members who “cooperated fully” during the search, according to spokesman Dale MacEachern.
Mladic, 60, and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic – who also remains at large – have been sought by the UN war crimes tribunal since 1995 to stand trial on charges of genocide and war crimes committed by his troops during the Bosnian war.
“This is a shame! The enemy is not letting us bury her in peace,” Mladic’s brother-in-law, Radivoje Avram, said in front of the house as SFOR was conducting an hour-long search.
“Do they really think that such a man would be hiding in a refrigerator, or under the manhole cover where SFOR soldiers have been looking for him?” said Avram.
But the Bosnian Serb general is considered the mastermind of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II, as well as the three year siege of Sarajevo which claimed another 10,000 lives.
More than 7,000 Muslim men and boys are believed to have been summarily executed in July 1995 when Serb rebel forces overran the eastern enclave of Srebrenica, supposedly under the protection of Dutch UN soldiers.
For the past several years, Mladic is believed to have been living in neighbouring Serbia where war crimes prosecutors claim he is under the protection of the army.
But officials in Serbia have recently said that he left the republic a year ago after losing support from his protectors in the former Yugoslav army.
SFOR has so far arrested more than 20 Bosnian war crimes suspects although it has twice failed to arrest Karadzic in large-scale operations in February and March 2002.
Meanwhile, Stana Mladic was laid to rest in Miljevici near Sarajevo in the presence of some 700 people. A wreath of flowers was laid on her grave with a message “From Ratko and family.”