He may not be as globally well-known as Osama bin Laden, but Ratko Mladic is one of the most notorious war criminals of our era.
Mladic, who was reportedly arrested overnight, was the former commander of Bosnian Serb troops who committed atrocities during the 1990s civil wars following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.
Working as army chief under Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic throughout the war, Mladic became closely associated with the “ethnic cleansing” campaign by Serbs against Croatians Muslims.
Wanted by a United Nations tribunal on war crime and genocide charges, he had been a fugitive from justice for fifteen years.
In particular, Mladic is believed responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys near the town of Srebrenica – which is considered the most grievous atrocity committed on European soil since World War II. That incident was the culmination of a three-year siege on the Bosnian city of Sarajevo.
A court in The Hague in the Netherlands indicted Mladic in 1995 for these atrocities and other crimes.
However, even after the international indictments, Mladic reportedly lived openly in Belgrade – visiting public places, eating in lavish restaurants, attending soccer matches – all apparently under the protection of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Mladic did not disappear from public view until 2001 when Milosevic was arrested.
Three years later, some of Mladic’s former murderous associates, including, Radivoje Miletic and Milan Gvero, surrendered to the war crimes tribunal. Karadzic himself was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008.
Throughout Mladic’s fugitive years, there was much rumor and speculation about where he was and who was sheltering him.
Over the years he was reportedly seen in Greece and even in Moscow, always with bodyguards. Other reports claimed he was in very poor health or was already dead.
In April 2005, Vuk Draskovic, the Serb foreign minister, said Serbian security agents knew of Mladic's whereabouts, though they denied the charge.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) applied more pressure on Serbia – even demanding that the country would not be considered for EU membership unless they handed over Mladic.
Serbia offered 10-million euro reward for his capture, while the US offered $5-million.
As in the case of bin Laden, speculation will now intensify on questions over what Mladic has actually been doing these past fifteen years, who harbored him and how he was finally captured.