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Mladic's family petitions court to declare him dead

Supporters of Serbia's ultra-nationalist Radical Party acting leader Tomislav Nikolic show pictures of Bosnian Serb fugitives Radovan Karadzic (L) and Ratko Mladic during a final pre-election rally in Belgrade January 15, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Milutinovic

BELGRADE (Reuters) - The family of Serbia’s fugitive war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic has filed a request to have him legally declared dead, a lawyer said Wednesday.

Milos Saljic, the Mladic family lawyer, said the motion was submitted to Belgrade’s First Municipal Court “based on the fact that the family has had no information nor contacts with Mr. Mladic for about seven years and that he was a very sick man.”

“Our motion argues that Mr. Mladic suffered a heavy brain haemorrhage in 1996, was treated for serious ailments at the Military Hospital in Belgrade, and had no contacts with the family for seven years, so he may be presumed dead.”

Mladic was indicted 15 years ago for genocide in the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. The European Union has made his arrest a key condition for further progress in joining the bloc.

Monday, EU foreign ministers agreed to start implementing an accord with Serbia known as the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), a key step for full membership.

The move came after chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz gave a positive evaluation of Belgrade’s efforts to cooperate with the tribunal, but also said that the capture of Mladic was not imminent. His report also persuaded EU governments to wait before launching an assessment of Serbia’s formal application to join the bloc.

If the court grants the Mladic family petition, his wife and son would be able to collect a state pension which has been frozen or sell his property.

The case could also reveal details about the government’s search for the Bosnian Serb general, Saljic said.

“We asked the military hospital to deliver his (Mladic’s) medical record and also people who are searching for him for evidence relevant for the case,” Saljic said.

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Adam Tanner