BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Serbia's interior minister said Saturday that he expects many of the top Serb war crimes suspects still at large to turn themselves in to local courts by early next week.
Dusan Mihajlovic, an ally of Serbia's pro-Western prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, said he had reason to believe that many of the 17 top Serb suspects wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, would surrender soon.
``We have indications that a number of people might surrender voluntarily, most probably on Monday,'' said Dusan Mihajlovic, an ally of Serbia's pro-Western Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Speaking to reporters, Mihajlovic did not say why he expected many the 17 key suspects, wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to surrender.
``The police know the whereabouts of a majority of the war crimes suspects,'' Mihajlovic said, adding that ``those who refuse to surrender will be arraigned.''
Mihajlovic spoke just days after a Belgrade district court issued arrest warrants for the 17 suspects _ including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime commander Ratko Mladic. But the warrants are viewed as unlikely to result in the immediate arrest of either Mladic or Karadzic since Yugoslav authorities claim they do not know where the pair are.
Karadzic and Mladic _ the world's two most wanted war crime fugitives _ have been indicted by The Hague court for war crimes and genocide committed during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.
In separate comments published Saturday by a private Belgrade daily, Danas, Mihajlovic said that police failed to arrest Mladic last year because powerful political figures, including Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, had protected him.
Police were unable to arrest Mladic because they ``feared possible bloodshed'' and because of ``uncooperative policies of the Yugoslav president,'' Mihajlovic said in the interview.
``We knew Mladic's address in Belgrade, but he was so well protected _ both politically and by armed men,'' he said. ``That's why no arrest warrant was issued.''
Kostunica, a moderate nationalist, has opposed Yugoslavia's direct cooperation with the U.N. war crimes court, while Djindjic and his allies engineered Milosevic's arrest and extradition to The Hague last year.
The U.S. government has repeatedly insisted that Yugoslavia arrest Mladic and Karadzic and extradite them to The Hague before the U.S. Congress will approve millions of dollars in aid to the cash-strapped country.
Serbia's pro-Western politicians managed last month to get the Yugoslav parliament to enact a law allowing the extradition. The government then issued a deadline for the wanted men to surrender, or face arrest.
Still, Serbian authorities who advocate cooperation with the U.N. court have said repeatedly that Mladic and Karadzic are not in Yugoslavia but are probably hiding in the Serb-controlled part of neighboring Bosnia.
Six of 24 Serb suspects wanted by the U.N. tribunal have already surrendered voluntarily. Three of them have flown to The Hague in recent weeks _ former Yugoslav army commander Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic, former Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and former Bosnian Serb prison warden Momcilo Gruban.
One top war crimes suspect, former Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic, committed suicide immediately after the extradition law was passed.
Mihajlovic said that Serbia's current president, Milan Milutinovic, who is among the 17 wanted suspects, will not be extradited as long as he holds office.