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Ratko Mladic: profile of the ‘Butcher of Bosnia’

Published: May 16, 2012 | 7:16 am
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Former Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, dubbed the “Butcher of Bosnia,” epitomised Serb defiance during the Bosnian war and is blamed for the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

Mladic, who led Serb troops at the time of the 1995 siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, faces a UN war crimes court from Wednesday.
Almost a year after he was arrested in Serbia – a once bull-necked soldier now gaunt and grey – he will again appear before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Now 70 years old, faces 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes stemming from the 1990s Balkans conflict which claimed the lives of some 100,000 people.
Lawyers for Mladic have called for the presiding judge Alophons Orie to be replaced and the trial delayed.

When he first faced the judges last June, Mladic insisted he was only “defending my country”, a show of bravado typical for the man, showing his defiance was undimmed by 16 years on the run.
He may be markedly older and thinner since the days when, dressed in fatigues, he commanded his forces, but his military salute to the judges and his combative responses showed undimmed conviction.
Born on March 12, 1942 at Bozinovici in eastern Bosnia, Mladic was two years old when his father was killed by Croatia’s World War II fascist authorities, the Ustasha.
In June 1991, as Yugoslavia crumbled and war broke out, Mladic, then a colonel in the Yugoslav National Army, was given the task of organising the Serb-dominated army from the Serb rebels’ stronghold Knin in Croatia.
The following year, Mladic, now a general, was made commander of Bosnian Serb forces and fought to link up Serb-held lands in Bosnia’s east and west.
Mladic was indicted for war crimes after his troops overran the UN-declared safe area of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia on July 11, 1995. He was present as some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were led away to their deaths.
The stocky warrior was the epitome of Serb defiance – at the start of the war, he accused Muslims of the worst horrors and was quoted as saying they “impale Serbs, burn them alive, crucify them and put out their eyes”.
Chillingly, he is also alleged to have said: “Borders are always drawn in blood and states marked out with graves.”
His message – that he and his men were fighting in the name of “Greater Serbia” – made him a hero to many of his people and a one-time favourite of late Serbian and Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic.
When he refused to bow to Western demands to withdraw his heavy weapons from around Sarajevo in September 1995, after a three and a half years long siege, it took the combined might of NATO warplanes and cruise missiles to blow apart his military advantage.
Karadzic sacked Mladic but was forced to reinstate him. However, Mladic finally became too much of a liability and was sacked by the Bosnian Serb government in 1997 following growing international pressure over his war crimes indictment.
He became a reclusive figure in post-war Bosnia.
For a long time he was holed up in his main command bunker at Han Pijesak, calmly defying NATO attempts to arrest him as he regularly threatened to bathe in the blood any soldiers who attempted to detain him.
He also often came to Belgrade, where his family lived, until he moved to the Serbian capital. Until Milosevic’s ouster in October 2000, Mladic lived openly in Belgrade, visiting cafes, restaurants and football matches.
But his popularity was waning among politicians in Serbia, increasingly concerned that failure to transfer Mladic to the UN war crimes court would mean further delay in the country’s joining the European Union.
Instead of roaming freely around Belgrade in a disguise, like Karadzic had done, Mladic then vanished, finding refuge in army barracks.
As the Serbian authorities cracked down on Mladic’s support network, he became more and more reliant on his extended family to hide him, which eventually spelled his downfall.
Mladic was arrested in a village in northeastern Serbia in May 2011 where he was hiding in a relative’s house.
Since his transfer to the tribunal’s detention unit, Mladic has complained of health problems at each of his court appearances.
His lawyer Branko Lukic was quoted as saying that the former general’s health is “very bad”, and that he needed a wheelchair to get around.
Married to Bosiljka, Mladic has a son, Darko, and two grandchildren.
His daughter Ana committed suicide in Belgrade in 1994 at age 23, reportedly with her father’s favourite pistol, having been unable to cope with the burden of accusations over Mladic’s wartime crimes.

Source: AFP / telegraph

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