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Originally published Sunday, May 29, 2011 at 4:00 PM

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The belated capture of a Serbian mass murderer has no joy

The arrest of Serbian general Ratko Mladic is a curious resolution of the Balkan War that officially ended in 1995. Mladic's capture 16 years later is its own version of a war crime.

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SERBIAN general Ratko Mladic's fingerprints are all over the epic atrocities of the Balkans war. His belated capture fuels more revulsion than relief.

Credit Serbia's desire to enter the European Union with the motivation to arrest a mass murderer living in plain sight, in the physical and emotional comfort of a warm, nationalist embrace.

U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, known as the chief architect of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war, had identified Mladic as a primary reason for the war.

Mladic, along with Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, unleashed Serb aggression and ethnic cleansing that claimed upward of 300,000 lives.

Their arrests over time were as lackadaisical as the West's response to years of slaughter. Europe via NATO watched on the sidelines and the Clinton administration sat on its hands for years.

Finally a combination of pressure from a flood tide of war refugees, and Mladic's murder of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica and long, deadly siege of Sarajevo, forced a response.

The West was as casual in peace as it had been to staunch the flow of blood. Holbrooke, who died in 2010, had noted the Dayton accords provided for NATO to arrest Mladic and Karadzic in 1995, but let it slide for 13 years. Karadzic was picked up in 2008. Milosevic surrendered to a war-crimes tribunal in 2001.

It is strange to watch justice reveal itself in fits and starts of international incentives for political and economic recognition by the outside world.

This is no template for the Arab Spring. Oppressive leaders can easily assume their real challenge is outlasting the attention span of world governments. Brave resisters of oppression have to wonder about the support they will receive over time.

Mladic is a cruel caricature of justice delayed.

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