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Serbia raises reward for Mladic to 10 million euros

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia offered a 10 million euros reward on Thursday for information leading to the arrest of the Balkans’ most wanted war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, whose capture is a condition for European Union membership.

An image taken from Bosnian television footage on June 11, 2009 shows Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (2nd R) dancing with friends and family members at his son's wedding party. REUTERS/Bosnia Federation TV via Reuters TV

Earlier this week European Union foreign ministers agreed to ask the bloc’s executive commission for an opinion on launching entry talks with Serbia, a procedural step in the long accession process and one they had earlier withheld.

To progress, the now pro-Western country still has to arrest Mladic, who was indicted by the United Nations war crimes court for genocide in the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo.

“The government has money in the budget to cover the reward. There’s always money for such allocations,” said Infrastructure Minister Verica Kalanovic. “Serbia is determined to get rid of that burden.”

The government said in a statement it had raised its reward to $10 million from $1 million. The average wage in Serbia is about 300 euros a month and 20 percent of workers are unemployed.

The government also said it raised its reward for another fugitive, Goran Hadzic, the wartime leader of Serbs in Croatia, to 1 million euros from 350,000 euros.

“We were considering 500,000 (euros), but 1 million is a better offer for this man,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Serbia and Bosnia’s Serb Republic region, Mladic still enjoys support of hardliners who consider him a hero.

Serbia’s war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic was quoted in British daily The Times on Thursday as saying that the former head of the state secret services Rade Bulatovic and ex-prime minister Vojislav Kostunica allowed Mladic to evade capture.

Vukcevic told The Times that in February 2006 Mladic was tracked down and about to be caught but he was tipped off and managed to escape.

In May, Mladic’s family launched court proceedings to declare him dead on the grounds that he had been in poor health and that they had had no contact with him for more than five years.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for a tip leading to Mladic, promising the protection of informants and relocation of their families.

Editing by Adam Tanner and Elizabeth Fullerton