The European Union's ultimatum to Serbia to arrest key war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic expired on Monday with the former Bosnian Serb wartime military commander still at large.
The far-right nationalist groups in Serbia still consider Ratko Mladic a wartime hero
Chief UN war crimes prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, Carla Del Ponte, refused to comment Monday on the expiration of the European Union's May 1 ultimatum to Serbia to arrest Mladic, her spokesman said.
Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte
"We will not speak about this until Wednesday when Carla Del Ponte meets (EU Enlargement Commissioner) Olli Rehn" to discuss Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the prosecutor's spokesman Anton Nikiforov told AFP.
The EU had said it would suspend talks on potential membership for Serbia-Montenegro -- due to resume on May 11 -- if Mladic is not handed over to ICTY by April 30.
Nikiforov stressed Monday that the date of April 30 was "not a deadline" set by the ICTY but "a self-imposed promise" to deliver Mladic by the Serbian government.
Rehn confirmed the threat on Friday, though he said the handover must take place within "the next few days," rather than insisting on Sunday's deadline.
Playing cat and mouse
As Sunday's deadline approached, the Serbian government insisted that it was trying to arrest Mladic, who has been on the run for more than 10 years.
Serbia-Montenegro's Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic
But, in what might be seen as an attempt to push back the deadline, Serbia-Montenegro's Human Rights Minister Rasim Ljajic, who is in charge of cooperation with the ICTY, said on Sunday that Serbia had information on 130 people who had helped hide Mladic over the years.
However, most of those people were in the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the minister told the Blic newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
Ljajic refused to give any further information on Mladic's supposed accomplices, because that might jeopardize efforts to capture the fugitive.
"We have more information than before ... we have made progress but the European Union will only appreciate the result, not our efforts," the minister said.
Mladic is held responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica
Mladic has been wanted since 1995 for genocide and war crimes committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war. The genocide charge relates to the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, considered the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II.
Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic declared that the arrest of Mladic, who remains a hero to ardent Serb nationalists across the Balkans, was now a "technical" matter.
Capital Investments Minister Velimir Ilic appealed in the newspaper Politika for the fugitive to give himself up, though he also said he felt Belgrade was under "suffocating pressure."
An optimistic note came from Erhard Busek, the EU's special coordinator of the stability pact for the Balkans, who said Mladic would probably be handed over on May 10.
"The latest information I have is that Belgrade is now planning to give him up on May 10," Busek told the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
"The more delays there are, the less credible Belgrade gets," Busek noted, calling on the European authorities to act more firmly. "We need to get tougher and turn our words into actions," he said.
A shrinking country
Serbia's impoversihed province of Kosovo is likely to become independent
Serbian ministers' latest announcements of progress in tracking Mladic down are unlikely to convince the EU, which remains skeptical after the recent arrests of five of the suspect's aides.
But Belgrade is in a difficult situation. A postponement of talks with the EU could not come at a worse time. The country is facing independence claims both from Kosovo Albanians and from its sister republic Montenegro, which is to hold a referendum on May 21 to decide whether to secede from its union with Serbia.
Serbia-Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, in Brussels this weekend, admitted that "Serbia's European future" would be "under threat" if the country did not meet its obligations to the ICTY.
"It is as though The Hague were our capital," he said. "Formally, I am in charge of the team of negotiators working on EU accession, but the real bosses are the fugitives wanted by the ICTY, because the talks' continuation depends on them."