Mladic: The most wanted man in Europe

Caught on video: Ratko Mladic, a fugitive from global justice after ordering the worst massacre in modern Europe, enjoying life in Serbia
Click to follow
The Independent Online

He is held responsible for the longest and bloodiest siege since the Second World War and the most pitiless massacre since the defeat of the Nazis, but that has not prevented the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Ratko Mladic, from enjoying a long and placid retirement.

For years after the Bosnian war ended 14 years ago, Nato peacekeepers sought him. But despite a US reward of $5m (£3m) and €1m (£850,000) offered in 2007 by the Serbian government, no trace of him was found. There were rumours aplenty: he had been seen in Moscow or in Athens, he had had a stroke and died. But there were no hard clues, let alone pictures.

But now the truth is out: as the pictures on this page show, Ratko Mladic has all the while been living a life of exemplary normality: dancing with his wife, cuddling his newborn grand-daughter, singing along to a folk band.

Fugitive Nazis had to flee to Brazil and create new identities when the Second World War ended. But when peace broke out in Bosnia, Commander Mladic simply went back to his village, put on his shell suit and picked up where he had left off. He blessed his son when he got married, he padded contentedly through the snow.

The video clips got their first public airing yesterday on Sarajevo Federation TV. For the first time since he vanished into the protective arms of his loyal supporters at the end of the Bosnian war, Mladic's fellow Yugoslavs got the chance to see what became of the man whose failure to surrender to the International Criminal Court in The Hague has become the biggest impediment to Serbia's accession to the European Union.

In one of the clips, Mladic, looking elderly and clutching a stick, walks with two women down a snowy path through the woods. He laughs as snowballs land on him, shouting: "Don't throw them at the camera!" Sarajevo Federation TV claims the clip, shot in 2008, proves that Mladic was "living freely" in Serbia at the time, and that the authorities know where he is, ignoring calls to bring him to international justice. The clips were shown at the moment of maximum embarrassment for the Serbian government, when its Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, was in Brussels discussing accession arrangements with the EU.

In a video shot at the wedding of his son Darko two years after the end of the war, Mladic greeted his guests, shaking hands and kissing them. He sang along to music played by a folk band, and concluded a dance with his wife by kissing her. In 2000, under the noses of Nato peacekeepers, he attended another wedding, this time of one of his aides in eastern Bosnia.

A year later he was cooing over his newborn granddaughter, and in 2002 he sat in a garden in the central Serbian town of Valjevo with his wife, Bosa. "This is paradise, so calm and quiet!" he enthused.

Immediately after the clips were broadcast a bitter war of words broke out between Serbia, to which the ethnic Serb career soldier owed his life-long loyalty and which is accused of protecting him all these years, and the media in Sarajevo where the shells fired by troops under Mladic's command caused as many as 10,000 deaths during the three-year-long siege of the city.

Sarajevo Federation TV says that a clip of Mladic walking through the snow was shot in the Belgrade suburb of Kosutnjak last year, a claim denied by the Serbian government, which came to power in 2008 with a mandate to arrest and hand over Mladic, and which was responsible for the arrest in July 2008 of the other "most wanted" Serbian war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, Mladic's former political boss.

"Not a single clip is less than eight years old," Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister responsible for co-operating with the war crimes tribunal, told a hastily convened press conference yesterday. He insisted the government knows nothing about Mladic's current whereabouts. He claimed that the footage came from a collection of more than 240 videos Serbian police handed over to the international war crimes tribunal in December last year, after police ransacked the Mladic family home in Belgrade as part of the Serbian government's efforts to convince the outside world that it had now got serious about tracking the wanted man down. Mladic's diaries were handed over at the same time.

The videos are the first showing Mladic in civilian clothes, and the first shot after the Bosnian war ended. In their bucolic domesticity they contrast starkly with the familiar images of Mladic in his general's uniform, strutting around the hills above Sarajevo during the siege and barking orders

Mladic is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity during the war in Bosnia. He went into hiding 14 years ago. The charges against him, by the international war crimes tribunal, include the massacre in July 1995 of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica.

The UN-protected Muslim enclave fell to Mladic's forces on 11 July, and cold-blooded mass executions went on for weeks. Mass graves with victims' remains are still being discovered in the area today.

Mladic is also accused of the war-time siege and random shelling of Sarajevo that took more than 10,000 lives, more than were killed the city during the Nazi occupation. Mladic became infamous for the command he gave to his artillery high above the city during the siege: "Blow them out of their minds."

It remains unclear how the videotapes ended up with Sarajevo TV, and how they came to be aired at the precise moment that Serbia was trying to prove to the European Union that it is putting every effort into the arrest and extradition of Mladic. This remains the condition for Serbia's accession to the EU, one of top political goals of nation since the ousting of former leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

If the present Serbian government is proved to have continued to give Mladic shelter, Serbia's efforts to come closer to the EU are in danger, analysts pointed out. Speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Jeremic yesterday, the EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said: "I would be extremely surprised if your reference to 2008 proved to be correct. The latest indication as to the fugitive's whereabouts date back to 2006 and his presence in Belgrade dates from a previous period."

The newly aired images must date "certainly not after spring 2008 when the new government was formed and I have no doubt that ... the present government is committed to see that international justice is served," Mr Rehn added.

EU ministers are to review Serbia's progress on cooperation with the war crimes tribunal on Monday.

Most of the clips aired yesterday show Mladic enjoying a calm and apparently happy retirement. But there is one exception: a video that shows the retired general at the funeral of his daughter Ana, a student, who committed suicide in Belgrade in 1994. Mladic is heard saying "Oh, my child" and as he cries, he presses his forehead to her coffin.

Wanted for crimes against humanity

Ratko Mladic, 67, is accused by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for the siege of Sarajevo (1992-95), which killed nearly 10,000 people, and the massacre in Srebrenica, which resulted in the deaths of about 7,000 Bosnian Muslims.

Mladic was lieutenant colonel general in the Yugoslav National Army when the Bosnian war broke out in May 1992 following Bosnia's declaration of independence. Republika Srpska broke away from Bosnia and Mladic became commander of the main staff of its newly created army. As such he blockaded Sarajevo, launching the siege of the city which lasted until 1995, becoming the longest siege in modern history.

In 1995 he was in command of troops who over-ran the town of Srebrenica and killed 7,000 Bosnian Muslims while Dutch "peacekeepers" looked on.