Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic used his power to commit atrocities that tore a nation apart and destroyed communities, and must be held to account, a UN war crimes prosecutor said Wednesday.
Mladic, who was arrested in Serbia last Thursday and extradited after 16 years on the run, will face genocide charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague Friday.
“Mladic was the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military leader during the wars in Bosnia. He is charged with responsibility for the role that he and his military forces played in the violent criminal campaigns that swept across Bosnia and Herzegovina,” chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz told a news conference.
“His crimes left communities broken and a nation torn apart. 16 years is a long time to wait for justice. It is a long time to know that someone responsible for this trauma is walking free. Now he must answer to these serious international crimes.”
The 69-year-old former general was flown to the Netherlands late Tuesday to face justice but has not yet entered a plea.
Mladic was indicted by the tribunal 16 years ago over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, close to the border with Serbia, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
He was taken to a detention center outside The Hague from Rotterdam airport Tuesday evening after being flown from Belgrade on a Serbian government aircraft.
The long-time fugitive was arrested Thursday at a farmhouse in northern Serbia belonging to a cousin, triggering protests by Serb nationalists in Serbia and Bosnia.
His swift extradition will smooth Serbia’s progress toward candidacy for European Union membership while serving as a warning to others indicted on similar charges, such as Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir.
Brammertz praised the Serbian authorities for arresting Maldic and said Serbia’s hopes of hastening its EU accession process had been a “very important” incentive to finally capture him. He added that he has asked Serbia to explain how Mladic managed to elude arrest in recent years.
“We want to verify who over the past five years have been instrumental in helping Mladic to stay in hiding and we want them to be accountable,” the prosecutor.
Mladic will be formally charged with genocide at the tribunal Friday, when he will be asked to enter a plea.
ONE MAN STILL ON THE RUN
“His arrest confirms that no one can count on impunity for war crimes,” Brammertz said, urging Serbia to track down Goran Hadzic, the last remaining ethnic Serb fugitive wanted by the UN tribunal.
Mladic’s arrest highlighted continued deep ethnic divisions in Bosnia, where he fought to create a separate Serb entity with the crucial backing of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in his UN tribunal cell in 2006.
As a result of the war, Bosnia is made up of a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation under a weak central government.
In an opinion poll published on May 15, before he was caught, 51 percent of Serbian citizens said they were against extraditing Mladic, while 34 percent said they were in favor of his arrest.
Zoran Vukovic, a history student from the eastern town of Nevesinje, said it was a shame to arrest a hero, and an even greater shame to extradite him to The Hague.
“We know this is the court that does not try according to the law and justice but only tries us Serbs. This is the biggest betrayal of Republika Srpska,” he said.
But Gojko Beric, a columnist with the Sarajevo-based daily Oslobodjenje, said the arrest was important for the country.
“The most important thing is that Mladic was arrested after 16 years, during which the victims have suffered and cried for justice and for the moment when he will be put behind the bars,” he said .
“The arrest however came with too long a delay, which may prove fatal for the outcome of general Mladic’s trial. The tribunal should speed up the trial as much as possible to complete this historic process,” Beric said .
Court registrar John Hocking, speaking to reporters in The Hague, dismissed comments by Mladic’s lawyer and son that the ex-general was disoriented and mentally unfit for extradition.
Hocking said Mladic’s transfer to the court’s detention unit “was a very cooperative, very smooth procedure.
Tuesday, Serbia’s war crimes court rejected an appeal from Mladic’s lawyer that poor health should stop his transfer and within hours, Mladic was on a plane to The Hague, where Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial.