BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia is still not cooperating fully with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in the hunt for fugitive former General Ratko Mladic, the chief prosecutor said on Monday, a key condition for eventual EU membership.
Serbia's past inability or unwillingness to find Mladic has long delayed its progress toward the European Union, deterring foreign investment and diminishing EU accession funds.
A U.N. war crimes court has indicted Mladic for genocide in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo.
"My role is to see, at an operational level, if everything possible is done in order to be successful," Serge Brammertz, the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor, told reporters.
"While recognizing that a number of people are really doing an excellent job, we say at the same time that there is room for improvement and in a number of areas, more can be done, and in a more professional way."
In October, EU foreign ministers asked the bloc's executive commission to consider starting entry talks with Serbia, but warned Belgrade any further progress would depend on its full cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
Brammertz said he would send his latest six-month report on Serbia's efforts to apprehend Mladic to the United Nations on Wednesday, and the Security Council would discuss it on December 6.
On his latest regular visit to assess progress in dealing with war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Balkan wars, the prosecutor said that he had asked Serbia earlier this year to devote more resources to the search and review its strategy.
"We certainly make the maximum effort," Serbia's Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic said.
Cooperation with The Hague is a key issue, one of the key elements we aim to have in place on our path (toward the EU)," Cvetkovic, who met Brammertz on Monday morning, said later during a visit to Prague.
"I expect the report will be balanced and I believe that it will be even better in June, because we will proceed according to recommendations we get in December," he added.
The Mladic issue is the most prominent factor that has left Serbia lagging behind many other former Yugoslav republics.
Slovenia is already an EU member; Croatia is close to becoming a member; both Macedonia and Montenegro are further along in the process than Belgrade. Even Albania, the region's most isolated state under Communism, is ahead of Belgrade.
Only Bosnia and Kosovo, which remain international protectorates, trail Serbia in progress toward EU membership.
Investigators believe Mladic is likely to be hiding in or around Belgrade, perhaps in one of the drab Communist-era apartment blocks in the capital's New Belgrade section of town.
"The main working hypothesis is that the solution to his arrest is in Belgrade, but of course operational activities are concentrated not only on Serbia but are logically also into other areas," Brammertz said.
Serbian officials say Mladic hid in army barracks until 2002 under the protection of military and state security hardliners before going underground. A trial of his past helpers has uncovered evidence he was in Belgrade until at least 2006.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)