The general who struck fear into Muslim and Croat hearts

Even now the memory of the sweating, pudgy face has the power to move Bosnian Muslims to fury or tears, the image being one of the most enduring of the Bosnian war.

For most people, that memory is of the television footage of Ratko Mladic, the conquering hero of the Bosnian Serbs, entering the Muslim fastness of Srebrenica in mid-July 1995. In front of the cameras, he looks the personification of magnanimity, patting the heads of nonplussed, mop-headed children and dishing out sweets while their silent, terrified mothers gaped on.

When the cameras switched off, the real - or perhaps just the other - Mladic reasserted itself. Patting of heads ceased. Instead, with ruthless efficiency, he had the men parted from women, the latter shunted speedily from the scene to government-held Tuzla, and the men taken away for mass execution. It was no spur-of-the-moment kind of decision, either, for the Srebrenica massacre took days, thousands of men having fled to the forests to reach Tuzla on foot. Mladic had his men lure them down with loudspeakers, falsely promising mercy.

"They were calling to us by megaphone - they got boys to call their fathers to come down and surrender," one traumatised survivor recalled. "They followed us all the way, whooping and yelling, as though on a hunt for animals. People went mad with fear. Many killed themselves, out of fear of being captured."

Experts have long pondered the berserk, shark-feeding frenzy of the Srebrenica slaughter, and wondered why Mladic did it, for it served no strategic interest, stirring an outcry against the Serbs that haunts them even now.

As Mladic never explained his actions, they have had to delve into history for a rationale, locating it in the traumatic circumstances of his childhood in the Bosnia of the 1940s.

Certainly, Mladic grew up in a rough neighbourhood. Born in mountainous Kalinovik in 1943, two years after the Germans invaded Yugoslavia, his fellow Serbs were then suffering badly at the hands of the Germans and their Croatian Fascist allies, known as the Ustashe, who aimed to empty Bosnia of its Serbs by expulsion and murder. Many in Mladic's family suffered in the bloodbath, which pitched Serb royalists against Communist partisans as well as against the Croats and the Muslims. Nevertheless, if Mladic harboured a vendetta against Croats and Muslims, he kept it well hidden over the next decades when, as the ambitious son of a poor family, he was speedily promoted in the Yugoslav army, spending much of his time in the southern republic of Macedonia.

What pitched him into a key role in Yugoslavia's collapse in the early 1990s was his transfer to Knin, Croatia, in 1991, just as Croatia was seceding from a Yugoslavia under Serbia's nationalist leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

The two men bonded fast, Milosevic singling out Mladic as "his man" in an army still dominated by dinosaurs left over from the era of Marshal Josip Tito. Mladic was given the key role in the Croatian conflict, supplying arms to the local Serb rebels and ensuring their success in grabbing as much territory as they could - and with a ruthlessness that should have alerted the world.

For it was here that Mladic stepped into the limelight, slipping off his Yugoslav army uniform and assuming the command of a Bosnian Serb army, which, in theory, had no connection to Belgrade. It was, of course, a fiction, and Mladic retained a hotline to Milosevic that was far more important than his ties to his official commander-in-chief, the Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic.

As military supremo of the Bosnian Serb army in the spring of 1992, Mladic struck terror into the Muslims and Croats, carving out huge areas of territory in north and north-west Bosnia and turning south also, down the Drina river that separates Bosnia from Serbia, with the aim of hemming the Sarajevo government into a small space. The death toll was staggering. So was the phenomenon of the Serbs' prison camps at Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje, names that were to become synonymous with death camps.

Sarajevans had special reason to fear the general, as Mladic's army vainly attempted to blast its way into the city in 1992, raining down shells. His voice was captured on shortwave radio, urging his men to "scorch their brains" with missiles.

The year 1992 was - in his own eyes - his finest hour, with Croats and Bosnians both practically knocked out and the Serbs in possession of vast territories. It was also the start of his decline, as Milosevic began to draw in his horns and abandon his bloodthirsty henchmen to their fate. And, as the Croats and Muslims recovered their nerve, Mladic's gains were steadily rolled back.

After big losses in 1995 culminated in the Dayton peace accord, which ended the Bosnian conflict, he was peremptorily sacked as Bosnian Serb commander and went to ground, now pursued also by The Hague war crimes tribunal. His former patron, Milosevic, of course, is now on trial, having been handed over years ago. If Mladic ends up in a cell beside him in The Hague, it will be a strange reunion.

The author is an expert on the Balkan conflicts and has written, 'Croatia: A nation forged in war'

The charges against Ratko Mladic

Under an indictment last amended in October 2002, the UN war crimes tribunal charged Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic with 15 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 1992 and 1996.

A summary of the charges:

* Two counts of genocide and complicity in genocide (Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia)

* Seven counts of crimes against humanity: persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; extermination; murder; deportation; inhumane acts; inhumane acts of forcible transfer (Srebrenica and 27 other towns and villages); inhumane acts and murder (Sarajevo)

* Six counts of violations of the laws or customs of war: two of murder; unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians; cruel treatment; attacks on civilians; taking hostages (UN and military observers)

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
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

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

SENCO

£21000 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: SENCO - Benfleet - J...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker