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Mothers taunted with cold eyes and chilling smile

THE turning point came as Ratko Mladic put aside his evident physical frailty to taunt victims of the Bosnian war in the public gallery, regaining the pugnacity and arrogance of the notorious "butcher of Srebrenica".

The former Bosnian Serb commander (69) began his first appearance on charges of genocide by complaining that his ill-health -- his right arm hung, dangling, after a stroke -- meant he had not read the charges against him. "I am a gravely ill man," he said, in a slurred voice.

But as Alphons Orie, the presiding judge, read out the long list of war crimes on which he is charged, Mladic dropped the persona of a sick old man and turned to taunt the mothers of Bosnian Muslims killed in the Srebrenica massacre.

Putting his shoulders back and sticking out his chin, Mladic regained something of the bulldog swagger and militaristic poise of the general accused of killing 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.

The key point came as he caught the eye of Kada Hotic, the sobbing mother of a boy killed by his Bosnian Serb troops in July 1995, as the judge charged him with genocide for the massacre, the first act of genocide on European soil since the World War Two.

As Mrs Hotic made a cut-throat gesture at him, repeatedly drawing her hand across her throat, Mladic's eyes lit up and he smiled coldly, pulling himself up in his seat to adopt the posture of a defiant fighter for the first time.

"You will pay for my child that you killed," she hissed at the glass barrier shielding her from Mladic.

Breaking down into sobs as he grinned, she cried: "I hate him. I see him sitting there smiling, he's smiling. I am back in 1995 and I am living it again."

As his first appearance in the dock after 16 years on the run ended, Mladic shook off the helping hands of prison guards.

"I don't want to be held and helped as if I was a blind man," he snapped.

His final act before returning to his prison cell was to turn his cold eyes on the victims' families, while giving them two military salutes in succession, accompanied with a ruthless smile.

He had entered the court as a querulous and sick old man; he left it 105 minutes later having regained much of the bravura and arrogance of his deadly heyday in the Bosnian war. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent