The hunt for top war crimes fugitive Gen. Ratko Mladic intensified after police intercepted one of his cell phone conversations, a Serbian security official said Tuesday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said that the arrest of the wartime Bosnian Serb military commander "has never been closer" since he went into hiding in 2003.
"Mladic made a mistake recently by using a mobile phone to make a call to his friend," the official to The Associated Press. "That helped the authorities locate his aides who know where he was hiding."
The official did not provide any details about when the phone call was intercepted. Last week, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said authorities had identified a number of people allegedly aiding Mladic and wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. He did not name the supporters.
Serbia has been under intense international pressure to find and extradite Mladic, as well as Karadzic. Both were indicted on genocide in connection with the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, the worst carnage in Europe since World War II.
They have been sought for more than a decade by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Serbia's interior minister in charge of police, Dragan Jocic, said on Monday that Mladic has not been located and denied reports that authorities were negotiating terms under which he would surrender to the tribunal.
But, Zoran Dragisic, an expert on security issues from Belgrade's Faculty of Defense, said Tuesday that Jocic's statement appears to be part of government "tactics" as it negotiates Mladic's "voluntary surrender."
"I don't believe that the government does not know where Mladic is moving," Dragisic told Belgrade's B-92 radio. "Jocic's statement appears to be a part of the (arrest) process. I believe that Mladic will soon be at The Hague tribunal."
Jocic told a parliamentary body in charge of Serbia's security Monday that police "have certain information, but it is not enough to locate Mladic,” reports the AP. I.L.