When Serbian police arrested former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic this morning, they ended a 16-year manhunt for the man held responsible for committing atrocities during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s. Where did they finally find him? At a relative's home in the tiny Serbian village of Lazarevo (pictured above), about 60 miles northeast of the Serbian capital, Belgrade.
Here's how it happened. After years of failed Mladic raids--according to this helpful New York Times graphic, peacekeepers once burst into Mladic's mother's house only hours after she died in the hopes of capturing her son by the death bed--Serbian authorities learned that there was a man living in Lazarevo named Milorad Komadic (an anagram for Ratko Mladic) who resembled Mladic and had identification papers with that name, according to The Times. Then before sunrise today, after two weeks of surveillance, Serbian intelligence agents stealthily stormed a single-story yellow brick house in the village owned by a relative of Mladic's mother, finding an old, bald, and physically diminished Mladic with two pistols. Mladic didn't resist arrest and "was pale, which could mean he rarely ventured out of the house--a probable reason why he went unnoticed," a Serbian government minister tells the AP.
That's not to say that Mladic kept as low a profile as you might expect for someone with a $14 million bounty on his head (almost $20 million if you count what the State Department chipped in). Mladic, the AP tells us, was rumored to have fled Belgrade in 2000 when his protector, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic fell from power, but he was spotted in the Serbian capital several times thereafter: in 2001 at a fish restaurant frequented by foreign diplomats, for example, and in 2004 driving a "battered, boxy Yugo car." As recently as 2010, in fact, Serbian authorities suspected that Mladic was hiding in Belgrade housing towers. In 2009, the Times adds, documents leaked by Western diplomats suggested that Mladic was regularly visiting Bosnia to celebrate birthdays and go hunting. That same year, a Bosnian television station aired what appeared to be recent home videos of Mladic, though Serbian officials claimed the footage was from years earlier. The Telegraph has some of the highlights from the hours of footage, which show Mladic singing, dancing, engaging in a snowball fight, and bouncing a grandchild on his lap:
In Lazarevo, the AP notes, Mladic was "sheltered by ultranationalists and ordinary Serbs." In fact, as you can see in this Reuters photo, someone plastered a "Ratko Hero" message on Lazarevo's entrance sign today. "Many Serbian nationalists regarded Mladic as a war hero who did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim forces in the bloody conflicts that tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s," Reuters explains.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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