Turkey has welcomed the arrest of a wanted Serb military leader, hailing his capture as an important development and a significant step forward for peace and stability in the Balkans and calling for his handover to an international tribunal as soon as possible.
Ratko Mladic, the ruthless Bosnian Serb military leader charged with orchestrating Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II, was arrested before dawn at a relative's home in a tiny Serbian village on Thursday after a 16-year hunt for the architect of what a war-crimes judge called "scenes from hell."
“We welcome the arrest of the main orchestrator of the Srebrenica massacre, Bosnian Serb war criminal Ratko Mladic, who had been sought for by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY],” a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, released late on Thursday, said.
“Handing over the war criminal Ratko Mladic promptly to the ICTY to be tried will make an important moral contribution to reduce the pain inflicted during the Bosnian War, which is the darkest and bloodiest page of European history after World War II. This will also constitute new and concrete proof of the fact that those who commit crimes against humanity cannot evade justice,” the statement also said.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also hailed Mladic's arrest. The foreign minister, speaking to reporters during his election campaigning in the district of Yalıhüyük of his hometown of Konya, said Turkey is very closely following the ensuing developments after the arrest of the Serb military leader and that Turkey welcomes his capture as a very positive step.
Davutoğlu recalled three-way meetings between Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina and its positive ramifications and said Turkey had contributed much to improving relations between the countries.
He said all these developments are vital for peace and stability in the Balkans and lauded Serbian President Boris Tadic's efforts in securing his arrest.
Mladic's arrest removed the most important barrier to the Western-leaning Serbian government's efforts to join the European Union and to rehabilitate the country's image from that of a pariah state that sheltered the men responsible for the worst atrocities of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Mladic, 69, faces life imprisonment if tried and convicted of genocide and other charges. The UN court has no death penalty.
Foremost among the horrors Mladic is charged with is the July 1995 slaughter of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which was supposed to be a safe zone guarded by Dutch peacekeepers.
Obsessed with his nation's history, Mladic saw Bosnia's war as a chance for revenge against 500 years of Ottoman Turkish rule in Serbia. He viewed Bosnian Muslims as Turks and called them that as a racial slur.
Citing the crimes Mladic perpetrated in the mid-1990s, Davutoğlu said no one can dare commit similar crimes against humanity in the Balkans and other regions today. “We support the efforts the Serbian government has made in this regard,” Davutoğlu said, adding that this step is important for the integration of Serbia into Euro-Atlantic institutions.