The family of Serbia's fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic is preparing a request to have him legally declared dead, a lawyer said on Tuesday.
Mladic was indicted 15 years ago for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.
However, officials said this effort would not affect their long search for the Bosnian Serb military commander in the 1992-95 Bosnian war, as they either had to prove conclusively that he was indeed dead or arrest him if he was alive.
Serbia applied for European Union membership last year, but its progress is linked to Belgrade's full cooperation with the United Nations war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia and the arrest of remaining war crime fugitives.
Milos Saljic, the Mladic family lawyer and a former colonel in the Yugoslav military, said the motion to be submitted to a Belgrade court was "based on the fact that the general was a very sick man."
If the court grants 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 or sell his property.
The chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said this month he believes Mladic is in Serbia after years of hiding under protection of hardliners and nationalists in Serbian military intelligence and state security.
Hiding in Serbia?
"We know that Mladic's family knows he is alive," said Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister in charge of coordinating efforts aimed at arresting the elusive general, adding that Mladic's last verified sighting in Serbia was in February 2007.
A security official who did not want to be named said the Mladic network had shrunk from "the protection of the military in the late 1990s and early 2000s to only a handful of people today."
"He might be living quietly in a nondescript apartment building in a major urban centre. As simple as that," he said.
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 2008 arrest.
Under Serbian law, a person can be declared dead if older than 70 and there was no information about him for more than five years. Mladic would turn 70 in March 2012, which means the family lawyer would have to use other provisions of the law.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Mayıs 2010, 08:36