The family of Bosnian Serb fugitive and war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic have requested he should be legally declared dead. However, authorities say the hunt for the general will continue.
The last verified sighting of Ratko Mladic was in 2007
Fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Ratko Mladic has not been seen for years, and now his family have asked Serb authorities to formally declare him dead.
Lawyer for the Mladic family, Milos Saljic, said a motion was to be submitted to a Belgrade court because "the general was a very sick man… so he could be dead now."
Mladic was a Bosnian Serb military commander in the 1992-95 Bosnian war and was indicted 15 years ago for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. He faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
Authorities believe Mladic could be in hiding, as Radovan Karadzic was until 2008
According to Saljic, Mladic was in poor health and has not been seen for seven years.
Under Serbian law, a person can be declared if they are over 70 years old and there has been no information about them for five years. However, Mladic is only 68, so the family will have to prove that "he disappeared under such circumstances that make it probable that he is no longer alive."
If the court were to approve such a declaration, Mladic's wife and son would be able to collect a state pension which has been frozen for more than three years and they could sell his property.
'Mladic is alive'
"Mladic's family is announcing this demand exactly because they know he is alive," said Rasim Ljajic, the Serb minister in charge of coordinating arrest efforts. Ljajic said the last verified sighting of Mladic in Serbia was in February 2007.
Mladic is wanted for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995
Authorities have said the family's decision will not affect the ongoing hunt for the fugitive.
Serb war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told news agency AFP: "The action team continues its search."
Some believe Mladic is living in a Communist-era apartment block in Belgrade, much as his wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic did until his arrest in 2008.
In recent months Serbia has stepped up efforts to arrest Mladic, raiding houses belonging to him and his family. His arrest and compliance with the ongoing United Nations ICTY trials are key conditions for Serbia's progress towards European Union membership.
Editor: Susan Houlton