Defiant Mladic Refuses to Offer a Plea to ‘Obnoxious’ Charges

Posted June 3rd, 2011 at 12:35 pm (UTC-5)
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The man known as the “Butcher of the Balkans”, Ratko Mladic, has made his first appearance before the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, but refused to enter a plea to what he said are “obnoxious” charges of genocide, war crimes and mass murder.

Widows and mothers of the victims of the Bosnian war attending the Friday hearing cried and shouted at the defiant Mladic, calling him “monster” and “butcher”. Kept behind a soundproof glass, it was not clear if he could hear them.

Instead, the former Bosnian Serb military chief saluted the court and told the three judges that he was defending “my people and my country” during the fighting in the 1990s that splintered the one-time country of Yugoslavia.

Mladic said he needed more time to read the “monstrous words” in the indictment. He is accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys — Europe's worst mass killing since World War II — and the 44-month siege of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo in which 10,000 died.

Alternately subdued and feisty, Mladic told the court he did not want a single letter or sentence of the indictment read in court. But Presiding Judge Alphons Orie ignored the request and read all 11 charges.

The 68-year-old Mladic also told the court he was ill, and had a private session with the judges to discuss his health. Back in open court, Mladic pointedly said he did not want guards helping him to walk.

Orie set July 4 for Mladic's next hearing when Mladic will be required to enter a plea to the charges. If he does not, an automatic not-guilty plea will be entered on his behalf.

He was once a burly, intimidating figure on the battlefield. Mladic, wearing a light gray suit, appeared frailer as Orie read the charges against him, but he defiantly introduced himself as General Mladic, a man that he said the whole world knew.

Mladic said he had not read the indictment and needed more time to think about the allegations. If convicted, he faces life imprisonment.

He has been at The Hague since Tuesday when he was flown there from Serbia where he was arrested last week after being on the run for 16 years.

His arrest and trial sparked protests among his nationalist supporters in Serbia, who see him as a war hero.

In advance of the hearing, his court-appointed attorney, Aleksandar Aleksic, said Mladic has not had proper health care for years.

The lawyer said he would ask the war crimes tribunal to approve more medical tests for his client. The exact state of Mladic's health sparked a dispute when another of his attorneys, Milos Saljic, said he has a document claiming that Mladic suffered from lymph node cancer and underwent surgery for it in 2009.

Serbian prosecutor Bruno Vekaric has said the document “looks like a hoax.”