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The monster from Srebrenica

Published on , , Sofia

The first appearance of the most wanted contemporary war criminal of Europe, General Ratko Mladic before the Tribunal for the War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia in the Hague, although purely formal, managed to succeed in setting the tone of a forthcoming long trial. The former military leader of the Bosnian Serbs was ushered in the courtroom by the guards, supported from both of his sides which left the feeling that the elderly Mladic (69 years old) had serious health issues. Something, which he said himself during the preliminary hearing. Although he demonstrated willingness to cooperate with the Tribunal, Mladic made it clear that his point of view was different.

Getting acquainted

When entering the courtroom Ratko Mladic looked fully tranquil but he had visible difficulties when speaking and obviously with his hearing. He spoke in his mother tongue (Serbian) and used headphones for interpretation, of which he complained several times but asked the tribunal to be patient with a "very sick man". Judge Alfons Orie wanted to know whether Ratko Mladic had made himself familiar with the indictment, handed to him in his cell in his own language. The indictment is 32 pages. After some misunderstanding because of the translation and with a call to give specific answers to specific questions, the general confirmed that he had received the document. To the question whether he would like the entire indictment to be read out to him or a short version, the former Bosnian Serb leaders said: "I don't want a single letter and a sentence of the indictment to be read to me".

Nonetheless, judge Orie decided to read out to him the short version of the indictment, which contains 11 counts: two of them of genocide and the rest of persecutions, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane actions, terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and taking hostages, violations of the laws or customs of war, crimes against humanity. All the time, while judge Orie was reading the short version of the indictment (around 20 minutes), Ratko Mladic looked perfectly calm and even looked as if he was falling asleep.

Then he said he would need at least two months to go through the document in details, of which he said he heard "monstrous" words in it he did not remember hearing before. He also made remarks on his lawyer, who was appointed by the tribunal, Alexander Alexic, a Serb. In Mladic' words, except for more time he would need at least one more lawyer, mentioning that he did not know his current defender, who on top of it was from Serbia. Judge Orie gave 30 days and scheduled the next meeting of the tribunal on Mladic's case for July 4th in 10 o'clock CET (11 Bulgarian time).

On Friday when Mladic appeared for the first time before the tribunal, there was also a non-public part of the hearing, during which his health condition was discussed. The live coverage of the trial was suspended under Mladic's request. His relatives and defence claim that he is in a very poor condition and will not be able to sustain such a trial. During the hearing on his extradition from Serbia on May 31, Mladic's lawyer said he was suffering from cancer of the lymph nodes.

Background of the indictment

The initial indictment against Ratko Mladic was combined with that of the then President of the Bosnian Serbs Radovan Karadzic and was confirmed on July 25 1995, in which they both are accused of genocide and other crimes against the civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war 1991-1995. The second indictment was confirmed on November 16 1995 and is related to the events in Srebrenitsa in July 1995 when nearly 8,000 Muslims (men and boys) were killed. In October 2009 Mladic's case was officially separated from that of Karadzic who is also in the detention compound of the war tribunal in the Hague and he is also facing a trial.

According to the already individual indictment, Mladic is to be held responsible for the fact that between May 12 1992 and November 30 1995 he took part in a joint criminal enterprise with the purpose to permanently remove Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat inhabitants from the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then claimed as Bosnian Serb territory. Mladic acted in concert with other members of this joint criminal enterprise, very well known names: Karadzic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Slobodan Milosevic (who died from heart attack during the trial against him in the Hague), Biljana Plavsic, Vojislav Seselj, etc.

Further on the indictment claims that between May 12 1995 and November 1995 Mladic took part in another criminal group to establish and carry out a campaign of sniping and shelling against the civilian population of Sarajevo, the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population. Between July 11 1995 and November 1 1995 he started the implementation of the plan to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, killing men and boys, and forcibly removing
the women, young children and some elderly men from the area.

Mladic is also held responsible for the fact that in May and June 1995 he took part in a criminal enterprise to take United Nations personnel hostage in order to compel NATO to abstain from conducting air strikes against Bosnian Serb military targets. In the indictment it is pointed out that in his capacity as a chief commander of the Main Staff Mladic was the most senior officer and in this capacity of his he had control over all military forces that participated in these crimes in that period. In other words Mladic knew or had reasons to know about the crimes that were about to be perpetrated by the Serbian forces under his command. Thus he failed or was unwilling to take measures to prevent the perpetration of these crimes.

For now Mladic neither denies nor comments these accusations. He only stated that these were "monstrous words" which he had never heard before. He vehemently explained that he was defending his country, not himself. The judge however said that he was appearing before the tribunal in his capacity of a citizen and will be held accountable precisely as such. Before closing the session on Friday and scheduling the next one for July 4, Mladic complained of the attitudes towards him. According to him, it was not necessary the guards to hold him when taking him in or out the courtroom as he was able to walk on his own.

The media in Serbia

"People are not chicken or a key in the pocket, which we can move here and there ... We cannot stage a war on every front, nor against the people, this is why I am offering you to take a decision not to stage war but if we are being attacked then we will defend ourselves and will not lead a war neither against the Muslims as a people nor against the Croats as a people, nor against those who led and antagonized this people against us ... Besides, we cannot make a cleansing, we have no riddle with which to filter only the Serbs. This ... I don't know how Mr Karadzic and Mr Krajisnik will explain this to the world ... Guys, this is a genocide".

These words, as improbable as it might seem, belong to Ratko Mladic. They were uttered on May 12 1995, when at a closed session of Republika Srpska's Parliament Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik presented the objectives of the war: distinction between the Serbian from the rest of the peoples and seizing 80% of Bosnia and Herzegovina's territory. The Vreme weekly from Belgrade quotes them in its article Deconstruction of the Myth: How Ratko Mladic Gave in to Genocide as an example for the latter case in which in Mladic can still be seen some forms of moral scruples.

Later with big red letters Mladic will write his name in history as the organiser of the worst crime in Europe after World War II, Vreme writes and adds: "This is not a metaphor: the military map from Republika Srpska's army staff, which these days media showed (again), the region around Srebrenica is surrounded by a red pencil and beside the circle it is written with big, almost childish letters: "This was and still is Serbian!" And in order to leave not doubt, Mladic signed this and put a date 12.07.1995.

Undoubtedly he was convinced that one day this map will become an exponent in the Museum of War. Instead, it was sent as evidence in the war tribunal in the Hague and will most probably become a museum exponent one day, but in the collection of some of the existing museums of genocide", the weekly writes.

19 years later, already standing trial in the Hague the same man will say: "I am General Ratko Mladic and the whole world knows this". Indeed, today the entire world knows who Mladic is and why is he facing trail in the International Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. The Mothers of Srebrenica also know that, who in the day when Mladic showed up for the first time after 16 years of escape in order to be held accountable for his crimes, found strength to gather together and watch his appearance.

"This is necessary for the sake of the truth, for the sake of justice and the victims. I personally saw Mladic on July 12 1995 in Potocari (a village 6 km away from Srebrenica). Then I was with my husband who was taken from me and murdered. I was deprived of my son too who was a correspondent in Srebrenica. This is why I am at pains that Mladic is behaving like a mad man and we all know that he is sane", says the president of the Mothers from Srebrenitsa, Haira Catic.

"All this is political games. Nevertheless, the important thing is that Mladic is arrested. It is late but for the living the last hope is one - a sentence for genocide", Catic says.

According to another member of the Mothers of Srebrenica Mladic is using the tactics of other defendants before him and the judges will find it hard to lead the trial.

"But I hope the judges will not tolerate Mladic to behave the way he has decided. The most important thing is he to receive a sentence that would bring justice to the victims of genocide and to us - the mothers who lost our dearest", says Hatija Mehmedovic, quoted by the Bosnia daily Dnevni Avaz.

The fact that he will try to outwit the court has been proved by Mladic's words, quoted on Monday by the Belgrade-based Blitz. "I made a huge mistake in my life that I did not commit a suicide and did not convict myself. But now, since I'm here I want you to realise my wishes and to immediately provide me with medical care, visits of my family, of my wife and son, as well as a lawyer. Otherwise, I will stop taking the medication I have and will refuse the food you bring me", Mladic is quoted to had said in his arrival in the Hague, according to Blitz.

The newspaper adds that Mladic is not ill with cancer but has had two brain strokes in 1996 and 1998. After the first he was treated in the Military hospital in Belgrade but after the second he took the same medication he was prescribed for the first one, without consulting a doctor.

The trial against Ratko Mladic comes in a very convenient time not only to close another chapter of the most shameful war in Europe's contemporary history but also because currently Bosnia and Herzegovina is having serious problems with its political and state construction. Problems which, if not resolved soon, threaten to create new tensions in a region in which old feuds have not been forgotten, not in the least.

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