Sunday 19 November 2017

Defiant Mladic won't enter plea to 'monstrous' charges

Bruno Waterfield in The Hague

Ratko Mladic refused yesterday to answer "obnoxious and monstrous" charges against him of genocide and war crimes committed while he commanded the Bosnian Serb army, insisting that he was a world-famous general.

During a 100-minute preliminary hearing, Mladic shrugged off illness and evident partial paralysis by defiantly refusing to enter a plea to 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity in the 1992 to 1995 war in Bosnia.

"I am General Mladic and the whole world knows who I am," he declared as he appeared in The Hague for the first time. He said he had "defended my people and my country", not fought for himself. "Now I am defending myself," he said. "I want to live to see that I am a free man."

After being helped into his chair by UN prison guards, the former Bosnian Serb military commander said he had been too ill to read the 37-page indictment listing the crimes he was alleged to have carried out in the brutal conflict after the collapse of Yugoslavia. His lawyers had claimed he was treated for cancer two years ago.

Shielded from angry victims by bulletproof glass as he sat in a courtroom of The Hague's UN war crimes tribunal, Mladic (69) spoke with slurred speech and appeared not to have full use of his right arm and hand.

Initially appearing frail and confused after 16 years on the run, the Bosnian Serb known as "the butcher" rallied after the reading of the charges against him led to shouts and sobs from the mothers of some of those killed by troops under his command.

He visibly stiffened and straightened in his seat as Alphons Orie, the Dutch UN judge, read out a charge sheet that included ethnic cleansing across Bosnia, a shelling campaign that terrorised Sarajevo for four years and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.

Asked to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, Mladic replied that he did not want to respond to the "obnoxious charges" and "monstrous words" of his accusers. Judge Orie scheduled a new hearing for July 4.

In a different courtroom, just a few feet away, the trial of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, continued on identical genocide and war crimes charges. The two men -- the political architect of Bosnian Serb operations against Muslims and Croats and his pugnacious general -- could yet be placed in the dock together to answer the charge of genocide at Srebrenica.

Mladic's arraignment, his first public appearance since his arrest, was watched by relations of victims of his alleged "joint criminal enterprise" with Karadzic to kill and drive out Muslims and Croats. Munira Subasic, a member of the 'Mothers of Srebrenica' group, said she had travelled to The Hague to once again look into the eyes of the man she claims took her 18-year-old son away before he was killed.

"I am here to see his bloody eyes," she said. "I met him and I begged him to leave my son alive," she said.

"The criminal promised me but he was not humane enough. For the past 16 years he has been living while I have been searching for my son's bones." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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