During Serbia's 16-year manhunt for Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, the former general would occasionally surface in public, whether driving a beat-up Yugo in Belgrade or celebrating birthdays in Bosnia. But here's a new one: Mladic might have spent three months in a major military hospital in Serbia's capital in 2009. The revelation, if true, would cast doubt on whether Serbian officials were really in the dark all these years about Mladic's whereabouts.
Mladic's lawyer, Milos Saljic, has approached the AP with a document he says proves that Mladic, who has his first hearing at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague on Friday, battled lymph node cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy at a Serbian hospital from April 20, 2009 to July 18, 2009. Saljic (pictured above) showed the AP a photocopy of a doctor's diagnosis (pictured below) with the names of the hospital and doctors who allegedly treated Mladic blacked out. The AP speculates that the hospital in question may be Belgrade's main military hospital, since Mladic received treatment there in 2000 before he went underground and the document says the patient received a checkup in the same hospital nine years earlier.
The AP hasn't been able to verify the document's authenticity yet and Serbia's defense minister has dismissed Saljic's claim. So why is Mladic's team releasing the document? Saljic thinks Serbian authorities extradited Mladic to the Netherlands as quickly as they did because they were worried the document, which Saljic obtained on Monday, would prevent Mladic's extradition (Saljic had argued that Mladic wasn't healthy enough to stand trial). But the AP points out another implication: If Mladic did indeed receive treatment at the hospital, it adds fuel to the speculation that the Serbian government knew where Mladic was hiding, and only arrested him last week in an effort to bolster its bid for European Union membership.
In a fascinating report today on Mladic's years on the run in Belgrade, Reuters doesn't mention cancer and actually suggests that Mladic had to avoid hospitals. A former aide tells the news outlet that in 2006 Mladic, unable to seek medical treatment for kidney stones, begged his supporters to kill him and end his misery. Mladic didn't have trouble getting medicine because Serbian pharmacies rarely ask for prescriptions, Reuters explains, but an investigator who worked on the Mladic case adds that a major focus of the manhunt in recent years was on doctors or pharmacists who might have been helping the war crimes suspect.