THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Failure to arrest fugitive Serbian general Ratko Mladic could undermine the work of war crimes tribunals after the U.N.'s Yugoslavia tribunal wraps up its work in three years, its chief prosecutor said Monday.
Mladic is one of two suspects still on the run from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up by the U.N. to prosecute war crimes committed during the violent break-up of the Balkans state in the 1990s.
Serbia's inability to arrest Mladic led to criticism from ICTY prosecutor Serge Brammertz in a June report that prompted European Union member states to wait before launching an assessment of Serbia's application to join the bloc.
"The non-arrest of Mladic would be the worst signal you can give to all future tribunals," Brammertz told a meeting of international press association journalists Monday.
"It would somehow give the message to perpetrators that you can sit out international justice, that political interest is disappearing over time and that at the end of the day impunity prevails."
Also in The Hague, the world's first permanent war crimes court, the International Criminal Court, is facing problems of its own as African Union states defy an arrest warrant for Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, also indicted for war crimes.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has called on ICC member states to co-operate and enforce court arrest warrants.
Brammertz echoed that sentiment, urging the European Union to maintain political pressure on Serbia to arrest Mladic, stressing that "those who are politically responsible" must "ensure the incentives are maintained."
Serbia formally applied to join the EU in December, and although it is making progress on the road to joining the bloc, EU governments still have to clear a review of its bid and improved cooperation with the court is a key condition.
But with the ICTY under U.N. pressure to wrap up its work, Brammertz said Serbia was not doing enough.
"We have no time. This tribunal is closing down in three years time, we need the arrests now in order to have a trial which represents the magnitude of the crimes committed."
In June, Mladic's family filed a request to a Belgrade court to have Mladic legally declared dead, but Brammertz also stressed the prosecution team still believes Mladic is alive.
Reporting by Aaron Gray-Block