SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Former comrades and supporters of Ratko Mladic were shocked by the arrest of the Bosnian Serb general, but those who survived mass killings by his forces welcomed his capture and said it should have happened sooner.
The mixed reactions in Bosnia and Herzegovina appeared to reflect the deep ethnic divisions that remain in the nation, which is half Serb and half Bosniaks and Croats.
But too much time may have passed between the end of the Balkan wars of the 1990s and Mladic’s arrest on Thursday because Bosnia’s Serbs didn’t pour out into the streets to protest his capture, and the Muslim Bosniaks and Croats didn’t appear en masse to cheer it.
Mladic, the top Bosnian Serb general during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, was captured in Serbia after about 16 years on the run. He is accused of genocide and other war crimes, including masterminding the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.
Sabaheta Fejzic, who lost her 16-year-old son and her husband in Srebrenica, said she was not very happy when she heard he was arrested because it took so long.
“Serbia protected him all this time and he enjoyed life and the goods of this world for so long,” she said. “He was supposed to be arrested years ago to sit in jail by now for all the crimes he committed.”
“What do I care about him and all of them,” an angry young man answered in the Bosnian Serb town of Banja Luka when asked about Mladic’s arrest. “There is nothing for me in this. I have just five marks in my pocket and can’t care less about him.”
Elsewhere in the town, a poster with a photograph of Mladic in military uniform appeared on the walls of several streets with the words: “Rise up Serb” and “The wing may be broken but the fight will be remembered.”
Miro Pavlovic from the former Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, near Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Mladic once issued orders, said he was “shocked and I still cannot believe” Mladic was really arrested.
More than 100 cars decorated with Serbian flags in Pale honked in protest at the arrest and cursed Serbian President Boris Tadic. Many shouted “Long live Mladic,” or “We are all Ratko Mladic” out of open windows and one promised “Mladic started from here, we will continue.”
Tijan Mladic, the first cousin of Mladic in the village of Bozanovici in eastern Bosnia, said: “Most of the Serbs here support Mladic and perhaps half of Serbia does, too. But we can’t resist … Tadic and his government.”
Tadic announced the capture at a triumphant news conference in Belgrade, and he reportedly personally oversaw the arrest operation.
In Sarajevo, Bakir Izetbegovic, the Muslim Bosniak member of Bosnian three-member presidency, said: “It is an important day for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and the whole region. We can say justice is slow, in this case too slow, but it comes.”
“The decisiveness Serbia showed with this arrest gives us reason to believe that we are opening a new chapter in our relations and it will help a part of the Serbian public to face the truth about the past,” he said.
But Izetbegovic also called Mladic a coward who “had the courage to order the execution of thousands of boys but no courage to face charges.”
Munira Subasic, leader of a group of victims’ family members, was pleased. But she also said: “I’m sorry for all the victims who are dead and cannot see this day.”
Haris Silajdzic, Bosnia’s wartime prime minister and foreign minister, welcomed the arrest, but said Mladic’s goal of carving up Bosnia was unfortunately still alive.
The arrest “is good news for justice, good news for the families of the victims of genocide, the victims of ethnic cleansing and crime who suffered under Mladic and his political superiors. But the bad news is that the project he has been working for is still alive,” Silajdzic said.
Ejup Ganic, a former member of Bosnia’s wartime presidency, accused Serbia of knowing where Mladic was hiding but delaying his arrest until it knew that would advance Serbia’s goal of one day being admitted to the European Union.
Still, Ganic said, the arrest “is good news because he is a butcher, a killer, a monster.”
Sarajevo resident Ismet Becar said: “There is some satisfaction for the victims of Srebrenica, but Serbia has clearly known where he was hiding all the time. The location where and the manner how he had been arrested proves this.”
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said he hopes “Ratko Mladic will have a fair trial in harmony with human rights conventions.”
Irena Knezevic from Banja Luka and Radul Radovanovic from Pale contributed to this report.