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Why Mladic arrest fails to draw line under Balkans conflict

James Ker-Lindsay

The arrest of Ratko Mladic undoubtedly marks an important moment for the Balkans.

In Bosnia, the news will be greeted with relief by Bosniaks (the term now used for Bosnian Muslims). They will be relieved that the man widely held to be responsible for one of the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars of the 1990s will finally face justice. In contrast, across the communal divide, many Bosnian Serbs will be unhappy about the news. To them, Mladic is a saviour. However, it is unlikely to lead to major trouble, let alone fighting. People want to put the war behind them.

In Serbia, there will be a degree of relief that Mladic has been arrested. While nationalists view him as a hero, and will regard his arrest as nothing short of treason by the government, many ordinary people understand that Mladic ties them to the past. More importantly, it has threatened to pose an insurmountable obstacle to the country's hopes of joining the European Union. Such concerns now appear likely to be lifted. It is widely expected that EU leaders will grant Serbia candidate status by the end of the year.

Therefore, while few Serbs believe that Mladic will receive a fair trial, they nevertheless understand that his capture was vital if the country is to finally turn the page on a particularly dark period in its history and pursue the path of European integration.

The key question at this stage is whether the arrest will also open up the way for wider regional reconciliation. There are good reasons to hope that it will indeed contribute to a new spirit of co-operation that is slowly emerging between the states that made up Yugoslavia. Already we have seen considerable steps to this end in the region. President Ivo Josipovic of Croatia and President Boris Tadic of Serbia have made a concerted effort to rebuild relations between their two countries.

Likewise, the Serbian parliament has passed a resolution condemning the horrific massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys that took place in Srebrenica in 1995, which Mladic is accused of directing. To some extent, his arrest will almost certainly help the process of healing between Belgrade and Sarajevo.

But it would be wrong to think that it will be enough to mend regional relations entirely. More needs to be done.

For a start, many Serbs feel that they have for too long been vilified and blamed for everything that happened in the region. They want to see others acknowledge their own roles in the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart. For example, the recent guilty verdict handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to Ante Gotovina, a senior Croatian general, has highlighted atrocities committed against Serbs during the wars of the 1990s.

Meanwhile, in Bosnia, it appears unlikely that the arrest of Mladic will have much effect on the major political challenges the country still faces 15 years since the brutal conflict there came to an end. It is still without a national government after elections held last autumn. Levels of trust between the three main communities -- Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks -- are low, and waning.

Moreover, the capture of Mladic is not the end of the story as far as war crimes are concerned. Goran Hadzic, a Serbian leader from Croatia, still remains at large. He will also need to be arrested if Serbia is to fulfil its responsibility to co-operate fully with the ICTY, the body that will now hear the Mladic case.

There are also a large number of cases pending in national courts throughout the former Yugoslavia. These should not be forgotten.

Finally, there are the grave allegations made against Hashim Thaci, the current prime minister of Kosovo, and other figures from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). Deriving from the conflict that took place there in 1999, these also need to be thoroughly investigated and prosecutions brought if sufficient evidence is found to support the claims.

So while the capture of Mladic is a significant step forward for the region, it is not yet time to draw a line under the wars of the 1990s.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Ker-Lindsay|. This article first appeared on CNN.com|.

James Ker-Lindsay is Eurobank EFG Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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