The news was announced by Serbian President Boris Tadic at a press conference in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, on Thursday, but full details of the arrest are not yet known.
“Today, early in the morning, we arrested Ratko Mladic,” said the president. “The extradition process is underway.”
Mladic is expected to be transferred to a UN tribunal in The Hague to face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role in the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebenica and the 44-month bloody siege of Sarajevo during the 1992-95 conflict.
Mladic is said to have avoided capture for almost 15 years because of a lack of political will in Belgrade and his status to many Serbs as a war hero.
He lived almost openly in Belgrade until 2000 when former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from office. The removal of his one-time mentor robbed Mladic of his untouchable status.
Mladic’s arrest follows heavy pressure from the European Union which has made it clear that Serbia’s failure to capture him was a major obstacle to its hopes of joining the 27-nation bloc. Earlier in the day, the special prosecutor for the ICTY is reported to have again accused Belgrade of not doing enough to capture Mladic and the former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the arrest of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic describing it as "a step towards Serbia joining the European Union."
"This is very good news, it's very big news. This is ... another step towards Serbia joining, one day soon, the European Union," Sarkozy said, on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight wealthiest nations.