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'Fit for trial' prisoner faces quick extradition to The Hague

Ratko Mladic yesterday failed to persuade a Serbian court that he was too ill to face a trial, meaning he could be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague within days.

A Belgrade court ruled that the Bosnian-Serb military leader was capable of following a trial where he faces charges that include orchestrating some of the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

His son Darko claimed that the 69-year-old had two strokes while he was on the run for 16 years until his capture early Thursday at the small village of Lazarevo in northern Serbia. He claimed that Mladic had a partially paralysed right hand and could hardly speak.

Mladic was transferred to Belgrade on Thursday. An official revealed yesterday that he had asked for Leo Tolstoy novels and a television set to be brought to his cell at the court while he awaited the appeal. He had also asked to visit the Belgrade grave of his daughter Ana, who killed herself in 1994, the official said.

The first photo since his arrest was revealed yesterday, showing him in a baseball cap looking shrunken, without the jowly features he had during his time as a feared leader. The war left more than 100,000 dead and another 1.8 million were driven from their homes to try to purge the region of non-Serbs.

Darko Mladic said that his father would deny charges against him, which include directing the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and involvement in the relentless four-year siege of Sarajevo. "His stand is that he's not guilty of what he's being accused of," he told reporters outside the court.

Mladic, who, according to the indictment, ordered his soldiers to "make them lose their minds" during the bombardment of Sarajevo, jumped from subject to subject and spoke inconsistently during yesterday's hearing, according to his lawyer, Milos Saljic.

Mr Saljic said that Mladic needed medical care, "should not be moved in such a state" and would appeal against the extradition decision on Monday. Sources within the war-crimes court said that the final ruling would be made soon, which meant he could be at the detention unit at Scheveningen on the same day.

Within days of his extradition, he would then appear before a panel of judges where he would be asked to enter a plea – though his legal team said yesterday that he did not recognise the authority of a tribunal prosecuting crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.

The hunt for suspects is now closer to an end. Goran Hadzic, a former Serbian leader in Croatia who is still at large, is the last of 161 people sought by the tribunal.

Sources at The Hague said any trial could start quickly because the indictment against Mladic has been public for 16 years. It contains a total of 15 counts dealing with genocide, crimes against humanity, forcible transfers of hundreds of thousands of non-Serbs and violation of laws of war in Bosnia from April 1992 to July 1995. Judge Fouad Riad, of the UN tribunal, said that there was evidence against Mladic of "unimaginable savagery."

Charges against Mladic include directing the mass killing of "close to 8,000 Bosnian-Muslim men and boys" over several days after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Buried in the makeshift graves, many victims still remain unidentified and mass graves around Srebrenica continue to be discovered. So far, some 5,000 remains have been dug up, identified and buried properly at a memorial centre in Potocari, near Srebrenica.

The attempt to hold a trial speedily follows the failure to prosecute the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack in 2006, five years after his extradition from Serbia and four years into his trial.

The political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, remains in custody in three years after his arrest in Belgrade.

The life that awaits him

Ratko Mladic will be encouraged to "maintain as normal a life as possible" at the Detention Unit where he will be held if, as expected, he is extradited to stand trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Located within a prison complex in The Hague, the purpose-built ICTY Detention Unit's 15 metre-square cells have housed more than 138 war crime suspects since 1995, including former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Inmates are innocent until proven guilty and as such, are allowed access to press coverage, the use of a computer, and daily opportunities to meet with lawyers, family and friends. With table football, communal English language classes and a gym, there is also plenty to keep detainees busy between court appearances.

Enjoli Liston

The Warlord's Family

Stern-faced and showing only the briefest glimpses of emotion, the wife of Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic arrived at a Belgrade court yesterday to see the husband she once tried to have declared dead in the dock accused of war crimes.

Bosiljka and Ratko Mladic's son, Darko, made an impassioned plea for the father he had not seen for many years.

"We are almost certain he cannot be extradited in such condition," said Darko, just before a court ruled otherwise.

For years they had played the dutiful army family, following Mladic all over the former federation of Yugoslavia, but they were a family marked by tragedy.

The couple had a daughter, Ana, who committed suicide in 1994. The medical student's death is said to have deeply affected Mladic. She shot herself with a treasured pistol he won at military school, and the war lord was often seen at her graveside in Belgrade.

Bosiljka Mladic has largely hidden from view since her husband became one of the world's most wanted men. Last year, she tried to have her husband declared officially dead, claiming the family wanted to be left alone as they hadn't seen Mladic for years.

But there were signs that secrets may be lurking. In April this year, Bosiljka appeared before a Belgrade court after being indicted for illegal possession of fire arms, found during the searches of her home. She admitted the arms belonged to her husband, but said she didn't know they existed until the police uncovered them.