Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic defiant at genocide trial in The Hague

Mladic appears in court on genocide charges in last major case arising from Yugoslav wars

Ratko Mladic was a shadow of the swaggering general who once "held
Sarajevo in the palm of his hand" during Bosnia's 1992-95 war as his
long-awaited genocide trial opened - but he still managed to inflame Bosnia's festering war wounds with the flick of his hand.

Hobbled by strokes and wearing a business suit instead of combat fatigues, the frail 70-year-old gestured towards the families of massacre victims in an angry exchange of hand signals through the bulletproof glass that separated them.

"Not even an animal would behave like that," said Mevlija Malic as she watched the trial on television in Bosnia.

Mladic is accused of commanding Bosnian Serb troops who opened the war with a campaign of murder and persecution to drive Muslims and Croats out of territory they considered part of Serbia. His troops rained shells and snipers' bullets down on civilians in the 44-month-long siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and butchered 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 2005, Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War.

"The world watched in disbelief that in neighbourhoods and villages within Europe a genocide appeared to be in progress," prosecutor Dermot Groome said at the UN court in The Hague.

Twenty years after the war that left 100,000 dead, Bosnia remains divided into two mini-states - one for Serbs, the other shared by Bosnian Muslims and Croats - linked by a central government.

Mladic fled into hiding after the war and spent 15 years as a fugitive before international pressure on Serbia led to his arrest last year. Now he is held in a one-man cell in a special international wing of a Dutch jail and receives food and medical care that would probably be the envy of many in Bosnia.

But the fact that he is jailed and on trial is another victory for international justice and hailed by observers as evidence that war crimes tribunals more often than not get their indicted suspects, even if they have to wait years. In another court in The Hague today, former Liberian president Charles Taylor faced a sentencing hearing after being convicted last month of aiding rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone's civil war.

That is heartening news for the International Criminal Court, which has indicted the likes of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for genocide but appears nowhere close to having him arrested.

In a demonstration of Bosnia's continuing ethnic divide, people who gathered in the Serb stronghold of Pale to watch the trial on television applauded as they saw the ex-general enter the courtroom.

"Mladic is our hero, it's sad that we see him there," said Milan Ivanovic, a 20-year-old law student.

Prosecutor Mr Groome told the three-judge panel that Mladic was hand-picked by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic because of his skills as a military commander but also "because Karadzic believed he was willing to commit the crimes needed to achieve the strategic goals of the Bosnian Serb leadership".

Mr Groome signalled that prosecutors would use Mladic's own words against him in the trial, drawing on a stash of wartime diaries Mladic kept, radio intercepts and appearances he made on television during the war.

In one such TV appearance, Mladic showed a news team around the Serb artillery dug into hills overlooking Sarajevo and denied any involvement in war crimes - foreshadowing his defence now that his actions were intended only to protect Serbs.

"I did not take part in any crimes. I have only defended my people," Mladic said. He has refused to enter pleas to the 11 charges against him in The Hague but denies wrongdoing.

However in another video he is heard boasting, "whenever I come by Sarajevo, I kill someone in passing ... I go kick the hell out of the Turks" - a denigrating reference to Bosnian Muslims.

"(Mladic) held Sarajevo in the palm of his hand," Mr Groome said, playing an intercepted radio communication of Mladic ordering the shelling of part of the city and a video of civilians scurrying across devastated streets to avoid sniper fire during Sarajevo's siege.

Mr Groome said all the attacks were part of an "overarching" plan hatched by Karadzic and former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to ethnically cleanse large parts of Bosnia of non-Serbs and carve out a "Greater Serbia" from the ruins of the former Yugoslavia.

Karadzic is also on trial at the tribunal following his 2008 arrest. Milosevic was put on trial here, too, for fomenting wars across the Balkans, but he died of a heart attack in 2006 before judges could deliver their verdict.

Prosecutors say they will use evidence against Mladic from more than 400 witnesses, though very few of them will testify in court. Much of their evidence has already been heard in other cases and will be admitted as written statements.

The first witness is to start testifying on May 29, but Presiding Judge Alphons Orie of the Netherlands hinted that he may postpone the case because prosecutors have not disclosed all evidence to Mladic's defence.

Bosnia's president hailed the trial's opening as a historic day in the still bitterly divided country's recovery from its war wounds.

"First of all we are expecting from this trial the truth," said Bakir Izetbegovic. "The truth and then justice for the victims, for the families of the victims. It is the worst period of our history."

Mladic gave a thumbs-up and clapped towards the court's public gallery as the trial got under way. He occasionally wrote notes and showed no emotion as prosecutors outlined his alleged crimes.

One woman in the public gallery called him a "vulture".

After a break in proceedings, Judge Orie rebuked Mladic and the public about "inappropriate interactions" and said he might shield Mladic behind a screen if the outbursts continued.

Munira Subasic, who lost 22 relatives in the Srebrenica massacre, claimed that Mladic made a throat-slitting gesture towards her after she had held up both her hands, wrists crossed to indicate Mladic was in captivity. Mladic's lawyer Branko Lukic did not confirm her version of events, but claimed that somebody in the audience raised their middle finger at Mladic.

"He is very easily provoked and we had that gallery full of people very ready to provoke," Mr Lukic said.

In Srebrenica, widows and mothers of the massacre victims gathered to watch the trial together and reacted with outrage to Mladic's apparent lack of emotion.

"This is so painful for us. It really hurts. We did not lose some chicken. We lost our sons," said Suhreta Malic, whose children and more than 30 other family members were killed in the massacre.

Crying, she sat in front of the TV with photographs of her dead children in her hands.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution