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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mladic Defies NATO To Seek Serb Release

SARAJEVO -- The Bosnian peace process appeared stalled Friday as Serb army chief Ratko Mladic retaliated for the detention of Serbs for alleged war crimes -- a fate that war crimes investigators say could one day be his.

Senior U.S. and Russian officials, cooperating in the NATO-led peacekeeping force, tried to defuse the crisis, but laid the blame in opposite corners.

NATO said Friday afternoon it had lost communications with top-level Bosnian Serb army officers, a development which Lieutenant General Sir Michael Walker, the NATO ground commander in Bosnia, called ominous.

General Mladic earlier ordered the suspension of all contacts with NATO until a Serb general, a colonel and at least six other soldiers detained by the Moslem-led government in connection with war crimes were released.

"I certainly don't think we want to underestimate the dangers of this situation," Walker said, describing the cutting of contacts as the Serbs' "first wilful sign of non-compliance" with the military requirements of the Dayton peace accord.

Serb civilians continued to cross the dividing lines with Moslem-Croat territory despite an order by Mladic suspending such journeys.

"The border will not be closed," said Maksim Stanisic, mayor of Serb-held Sarajevo.

Serb authorities said Thursday they would seize Moslems or Croats crossing into their territory unless the Bosnian government freed the Serb detainees.

A key principle of the Dayton peace treaty is free movement across former front lines.

One Serb civilian in Ilidza, a Serb suburb of the Bosnian capital, said of Mladic's ban on movement across front lines that he hoped people would continue to cross freely. "During the war Mladic was God. But now he is not. There is a big question mark over him," he said, asking not to be named.

In another sign that many Serbs were unwilling to cut off all contact, Stanisic said he would be willing to meet the international community's top civilian envoy Carl Bildt, or his deputy, Michael Steiner, in the mayor's office in Ilidza or at the NATO-controlled airport in Sarajevo.

Mladic, like Bosnian Serb "president" Radovan Karadzic, has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, visiting Belgrade, struck a different note, calling "unjust" the detention of the Serbs, some of whom were reportedly on their way to take part negotiations with the Moslem-led government when seized. "We greatly regret this event, we think it is unjust," he said. "We think that none of us should take actions that could torpedo the process."

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, the main architect of the Dayton peace accord, said in Budapest he would travel to Sarajevo, Belgrade and Zagreb to deal with the "serious challenges" to the pact.

"The U.S. will not tolerate the kind of threats that some of the Bosnian Serbs have been making," he said.

The Bosnian government says Bosnian Serb army General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic are suspected of killing civilians during the war.