Defiant Mladic Goes on Trial at The Hague

Posted May 16th, 2012 at 1:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Prosecutors are making their case against the infamous military commander blamed for helping engineer the genocide of Bosnian Muslims two decades ago.

Former Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic gave a thumbs-up and clapped his hands as he entered the courtroom at The Hague. The defiant 70-year-old taunted survivors, looking at one Muslim woman and running his hand across his throat.

Another woman in the public seating area then repeatedly called Mladic a “vulture.”

Presiding Judge Alphons Orie reprimanded both sides, ordering an end to all “inappropriate interactions.”

Mladic faces 11 charges, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecutor Dermot Groome promised in his opening statement those charges would be proven beyond any doubt.

“He assumed a mantle of realizing, through military might, the criminal goals of ethnically cleansing much of Bosnia.''

Groome said Mladic's methods were aimed at outright extermination of anyone who was not ethnically Serb.

“They were loaded in groups of five, into a bus. The bus was driven to the field and as the men were forced off the bus, they could see the bodies of those killed before them. They were murdered, as they left the bus. A survivor will describe that day how he threw himself to the ground and pretended to be dead. As he laid there, he heard the sound of earth-moving equipment. Another survivor of this massacre will describe during the trial hearing one of the soldiers comment to another — it is all going according to plan.''

In Srebrenica, site of one of the most infamous massacres of the war, relatives of the victims watched the proceedings on television, trying to contain their grief.

Suhreta Malic lost two sons in the Srebrenica massacre.

“This is so painful for us. It really hurts. We did not lose some chickens. We lost our sons. Sons! (crying), Our sons were not war criminals. My oldest son, Fuad, was killed at the hangar in Kravice (village near Srebrenica). The other one, an engineer, was found in Liplje mass grave (near Srebrenica). They were big boys. Look at them now (showing the picture of sons). I just buried some of their bones. Look at them.”

Prosecutors say Mladic gave the order to massacre 8,000 men and boys outside the Bosnian city. They also accuse him of helping orchestrate the bloody siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the early 1990s.

But despite the gravity of the charges, Mladic still has his supporters. In Pale, student Mladen Mandic lashed out at the war crimes tribunal.

“They have accused one honorable man and they do not let him defend himself properly and the prosecution has a big advantage as they use material from previous cases. Three sides were involved in the war and there were crimes on all three sides. This is an honorable man who defended Serb people, and if it was not for him we wouldn't be here now.''

Mladic is the last of the major war crimes suspects from the Bosnian war to go on trial, 20 years after the war began.

Presentation of the evidence is set to begin May 29, but Judge Orie has said that could be postponed due to a prosecution mistake in the way some of the evidence was disclosed to the defense team.

Mladic's lawyer, Branko Lukic, says he is still hoping for a delay.

“I hoped there would be some postponement. Still we would have to participate in the trial, but of course we will try to make a lot of fuss every time we have to cross-examine the witness. We would raise that issue every time that we are not prepared. If we had received enough time to prepare for the witnesses — and that's all we ask for from the chambers, to follow the rules — then of course it will be much easier for us to examine every single witness.”

The former general was arrested a year ago, after about 16 years on the run as one of Europe's most wanted men. Some experts believe Mladic returned to Belgrade, Serbia, after the war where he was supported and protected by then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. But after Milosevic was arrested in 2001 and transferred to The Hague tribunal, Mladic went into hiding.