Mladic is declared fit to face war crimes tribunal
Published 28/05/2011 | 05:00
Ratko Mladic, the Butcher of Bosnia, is fit enough to be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, a court in Serbia has ruled, dismissing his family's claims that he is too ill to face justice.
A judge at a special war crimes court in Belgrade agreed to the former general's extradition as it emerged that he was still in his pyjamas and had to be given help putting his clothes on when he was surprised in a dawn raid by Serb police at the culmination of a 16-year manhunt.
Mladic's relatives claimed he had suffered three strokes in the past 15 years, leaving him with a half-paralysed right arm, which meant that a male supporter had to help him get dressed when police finally caught up with him in the village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia.
The picture of a frail old man unable to dress himself is sharply at odds with that of the swaggering, bull-necked military commander who struck fear into the hearts of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
His family said his health problems were genuine, insisting that he was so incapacitated that he could barely speak.
His son Darko said: "He is in very bad shape. His right arm is half-paralysed. His right side is partly numb. We are almost certain he cannot be extradited in such a condition."
But there was suspicion in Serbia and abroad that, like many aged Nazi war criminals before him, the pugnacious ex-commander of the Bosnian Serb army was exaggerating his state of health to evade extradition.
Maja Kovacevic, the judge in the war crimes court, said Mladic had been examined by a medical commission, "which has determined he is fit for further proceedings".
Mladic is likely to be extradited within the next nine days, EU officials said, despite an appeal due to be launched by his lawyers on Monday. Serbian officials said the extradition papers could be signed as early as next Tuesday.
The 69-year-old ultra-nationalist is accused of orchestrating the worst atrocities in Europe since the end of World War Two, including the massacre of 8,000 unarmed men and boys in the town of Srebrenica in 1995 and the killing of thousands of civilians during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo.
He will face 11 charges when he appears before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, including genocide, violation of the rules of war and crimes against humanity.
But for the 3,000 inhabitants of Lazarevo, the sleepy farming town near the Romanian border in which he was arrested, he remains a hero, not a war criminal.
Most of the villagers are the descendants of ethnic Serbs who were transferred from their homes in Bosnia by Tito at the end of World War Two.
Far from seeing Mladic as the perpetrator of unspeakable crimes, they regard him as a champion of the Serb cause.
Amid dusty lanes lined with cherry and almond trees, it was impossible to find anyone with a bad word to say about one of the world's most wanted men, who was arrested after being found hiding in a farmhouse.
Some villagers have even suggested that they rename their town, around 80km north of Belgrade, 'Mladic' as a mark of honour.
"He was an excellent man, a big man. I cannot say enough good things about him," said Rada Guzina (86), Mladic's godmother and one of dozens of villagers linked to the former general's family. (© Daily Telegraph, London)