The feared Bosnian General Ratko Mladic finally found himself in the dock on Thursday following 16 years on the run for his part in some of the worst humanitarian crimes in European history.
This week he will stand trial with his former political master and ex- President of the Serbian Democratic Party, Radovan Karadzic, both men will stand accused of terrible crimes during the 1990s Balkan Crisis. These include the mass killing of 8,000 unarmed men and women at Srebrenica in July 1995 and the deaths of thousands of civilians, which occurred during the 44- month siege of Sarajevo.
Serbian President Boris Tadic stated that the capture ‘closed a chapter in our recent history’ and provided a further step towards ‘full reconciliation in the area’. His words were echoed by President Obama, the EU and NATO who all who praised and expressed relief at the news.
The long hunt for the fugitive General ended in a dawn raid on his cousin’s house in Lazarevo, a small village in the northern province of Vojvodina near the Hungarian border. Facial imaging and DNA tests were conducted before he was removed to a cell in the Serbian intelligence headquarters to wait for extradition to The Hague.
“The capture closed a chapter in our recent history”
President Boris Tadic
Last year the police discovered a cache of crucial information behind a false wall at his Belgrade house, a collection of notebooks, sound recordings and memory sticks that amount to 3,500 pages of war diaries that will be used in the court preceedings. General Mladic, 69, reportedly appeared frail in court, and the hearing was truncated due to his poor physical state. He was cleared for extradition however to The Hague on Friday.
The hunt for General Mladic has been intermittent, in part a result of rumours that he was in a remote bunker or maybe even in Russia, but also due to the nature of his involvement in the Balkan crisis. In the later part of the 1990s General Mladic was seen by the West as essential to the stability of the country, despite the fact that he was wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal. He was presented as indispensable, the man who could ensure the safety of NATO peacekeepers and fulfil the military requirements of the Dayton agreement concerning Bosnia.
The arrest comes just six months after a damning criticism from the EU, which suggested Serbian authorities were not doing enough. The current Serbian Government had a serious vested interest in capturing Mladic, as his freedom has prevented Serbia’s entry into the EU. Last week’s events kick-started led to some early remarks regarding Serbia’s possible entry into the European Union. President Sarkozy, after praising the actions of the Serbian authorities, also expressed that it was “one more step towards Serbia’s integration one day into the European Union.”
Mladic remained on the military payroll until 2002 and he remained untouchable while Slobodan Milosevic remained the Serbian President. Milosevic was levered out of power in 2000 and arrested in 2001 for war crimes.
Previous governments were undecided as to how to deal with a man simultaneously lauded by many Serbs as a hero, but on the other hand being a man condemned as a war criminal and a principal architect of the greatest crimes in Europe since World War II.