Ratko Mladic's case: top security officials must be dissmissed, foreign minister says

Serbia's government has pledged to step up efforts to hunt down Mladic and thus revoke a European Union suspension of pre-membership talks withBelgrade.

The Blic daily quoted Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic as saying Belgrade's international position was "more than grave" following the EU decision earlier this week to freeze negotiations with Serbia-Montenegro until Mladic is handed over to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"Mladic must be arrested, and not any time, but in the next 10 days," Draskovic said. "After that, it will be too late."

President Boris Tadic expressed hope that Mladic will be captured by May 10 - the eve of the planned round of talks with EU that was called off. EU officials have said the talks will be held once Mladic is in The Hague.

The U.N. tribunal charged Mladic with genocide in 1995 for allegedly orchestrating the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims in eastern Bosnia that year. The chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has insisted that Mladic is hiding in Serbia under protection from the hard-liners in the military and the police.

Draskovic also blamed nationalist loyalists of ex-President Slobodan Milosevic in the security services for the failure to track down the Bosnian Serb wartime commander, according to the newspaper report. He insisted that hard-liners must be fired from Serbia's security agency and military intelligence service.

There was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica to Draskovic's statements. Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement is part of the governing coalition in Serbia, led by Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia.

The suspension of EU talks has dealt a major blow to Serbia's bid to reform and recover its economy after years of isolation under Milosevic. A next round of aid and trade talks with Brussels had been scheduled for May 11.

State-run TV reported Saturday that a massive police action was underway to locate Mladic and that several of his alleged associates had been detained.

On Friday, police sealed off a Belgrade neighborhood where Mladic's son, Darko, lives and searched several houses. Authorities also detained two people on suspicion of helping Mladic evade justice, bringing to 10 the number of people jailed on suspicion of helping the fugitive wartime general.

Del Ponte, however, has dismissed the Serbian police action as a show for the public.

The Mladic crisis has led to resignation of the deputy prime minister, Miroljub Labus. Draskovic suggested his party might leave the government if Mladic is not arrested soon.