By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Close surveillance of suspected helpers and family members led to the capture of Ratko Mladic after 16 years on the run, an official close to his arrest said Saturday.
Security officials monitoring communications by Mladic's helpers discovered several weeks ago which family members were helping him hide, the official said Saturday on condition of anonymity.
The fugitive general, who has been indicted for genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, was found Thursday at a farmhouse belonging to his cousin after years of failed attempts to find and arrest him.
A Belgrade court ruled Friday he was fit enough to face genocide charges at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
Supporters of Mladic across Serbia and the Bosnian Serb Republic said they planned a series of protests over the following days, including in Belgrade Sunday night.
A large poster of Mladic hung over the facade of a hotel in Banja Luka, the largest town in Bosnia's Serb Republic, where many see Mladic as a Serb protector. Banners read "rise general" and "the wings are broken but the bird will fly away."
The official said Serbian agents knew they were closing in Mladic when they noticed that one of his suspected helpers made repeated calls and trips to a village in Serbia's northeast.
"Then we knew something was going on and that we might get him soon," the official told Reuters. "Then we increased monitoring of that suspect and he led us to the general."
He compared the operation to the methods used by U.S. intelligence in tracking down Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.
"Electronic surveillance was the key. We have also reduced the number of operatives on the job to minimize the probability of leaks," he said.
MORE PROTESTS PLANNED
In the Bosnian eastern town of Visegrad, relatives of Bosnian Muslims killed by Serb forces during the Bosnian war threw 3,000 red roses into the Drina River, a natural border between Serbia and Bosnia.
"Why should I care about his arrest, nobody can bring back my brother," said Hasa Korac, whose two brothers were killed in Visegrad and thrown into the river.
Lawyer Milos Saljic said he would appeal against Mladic's extradition to The Hague Monday, using regular mail. This would meet the deadline set by the Belgrade special war crimes court but delay the handover because the court would have to await its receipt.
Mladic's son said his father was too frail to be handed over to prosecutors in The Hague.
But a Belgrade court official said that Mladic was in a relatively good shape: "We have sent him a TV set and strawberry snack and established good communication with him."
During his arrest in the village of Lazarevo, about 100 km (60 miles) from Belgrade, Mladic was armed with two handguns he did not use. Officials said he was cooperative and did not resist arrest.
"The police actually raided that particular place in Lazarevo in the past, acting on a tip-off but came empty-handed," Rasim Ljajic, the minister in charge of the search for fugitive war criminals, said Friday.
(Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela, Gordana Katana and Sasa Kavic, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Adam Tanner)