War crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, who led Bosnian Serb troops during the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, made his first appearance before a United Nations tribunal, calling genocide and war crimes charges “obnoxious.”
Mladic, captured in Serbia on May 26, faces 11 charges including genocide, persecution, extermination and murder and taking UN hostages, according to an indictment read out by the court’s lead judge in The Hague today. The former general, who faces life in prison if convicted, said he is “gravely ill."
Wearing a grey suit and a cap, which he removed before the hearing started, Mladic said he didn’t want to hear a “single word” of the indictment, refrained from entering a plea and requested more time to understand the charges. A new hearing was scheduled for July 4.
“I defended my people and my country,” Mladic said after Judge Alphons Orie read the summary of charges. “I want to live to see that I am a free man.”
Mladic was indicted in July 1995 along with former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested in 2008 on similar charges stemming from his role in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the bloodiest chapter of Yugoslavia’s collapse. The UN prosecutor can request the court to merge their trials.
Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic declined to comment during a meeting in Belgrade today.
The former general was arrested by Serbian police on May 26 after evading capture for almost 16 years. He led Serb forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of almost 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica after Dutch troops failed to protect the so-called U.N. safe haven.
“Since 1995, we have been doing all in our power that all those that committed war crimes face justice,” Sehida Abdurahmanovic, the leader of an association of mothers who lost relatives in Srebrenica, said in an interview. “For people that died here during the war and were victims of genocide, there is no punishment heavy enough that could really make justice for all those crimes he committed.”
Milos Saljic, Mladic’s Belgrade lawyer, has said the ex- general had three strokes in the past and could die “very soon.” Mladic has suffered from lymph-node cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy in 2009, the Associated Press reported. Mladic, who visited the UN prison’s hospital, discussed his health in the court session.
Mladic’s arrest and extradition were on the list of conditions for Belgrade to convince the European Union that Serbia is ready to become an EU candidate. The Dutch government, which resigned in 2002 after an investigation into the fall of Srebrenica, demanded Serbia first extradite Mladic before it could negotiate EU accession.
Mladic is held with 36 others at the court’s detention unit in a prison in the nearby seaside resort of Scheveningen. The tribunal, established by a UN Security Council resolution in 1993, has sentenced 64 people and now has 18 suspects on trial or awaiting trial. Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of Serbs in Croatia, is the only suspect at large.
Karadzic, 65, has refused to enter a plea to any of the charges and disputes the jurisdiction of the court, following an example set by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic died in prison in 2006 before his trial was concluded.
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