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Video by Siobhán SILKE


Latest update : 2011-05-27

War crimes suspect Ratko Mladic’s first appearance before a Serbian war crimes court was suspended on Thursday due to health concerns, his lawyer said. Doctors are expected to examine Mladic and report Friday if he is capable of appearing in court.

AFP - Former military chief Ratko Mladic appeared in court Thursday, hours after his arrest in Serbia ended a 16-year manhunt for the general accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Europe's most-wanted man was arrested in the early hours of Thursday in a village in northern Serbia, but there were immediately questions over whether the 69-year-old Bosnian Serb was fit to stand trial after he claimed to be ill.

"Today, early in the morning, we arrested Ratko Mladic," Serbian President Boris Tadic announced.

"The extradition process is under way," he added, referring to the process to transfer Mladic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a UN tribunal based in The Hague.

The indictment against him cites the Srebrenica massacre, the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, and the creation of camps and detention centres during the 1992-1995 war, all as part of a campaign directed against Bosnian Muslims.

At Srebrenica, 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and massacred, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

But Mladic's first appearance before the Serbian war crimes court was halted as his lawyer said he was unable to communicate.

"The investigative judge tried to question Ratko Mladic but he failed because he (Mladic) is in a difficult psychological and physical condition," his lawyer Milos Saljic told reporters.

"It is difficult to establish any kind of communication with him," he said. Mladic had however confirmed his identity, he added.

Mladic was to undergo medical evaluations and doctors would report on Friday as to whether he is capable of appearing in court, said Saljic, who added he believed the former general was fit to be transferred to The Hague.

Deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric, while confirming the hearing had been stopped, refused to comment on the reasons. But he disputed the assessment that Mladic was unable to answer simple questions.

Earlier, he had said it could take up to seven days before Mladic was handed over to the ICTY.

Mladic, the ICTY's most wanted fugitive, faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Two people were injured as hundreds of ultra-nationalists protesting his arrest clashed with police in the northern city of Novi Sad, said authorities.

Serbian police said they had stepped up security across the country following the arrest.

Tadic would not say how and where Mladic was arrested other than that he was captured on Serbian soil.

But Serbian security sources told AFP that three special units swooped in the early hours of Thursday on a house in Lazarevo, a village around 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Belgrade, close to the Romanian border.

The house was owned by a relative of Mladic and had been under surveillance for the past two weeks, one of the sources added.

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said Mladic had been armed with two guns "but he did not have the time to use them".

The international community welcomed the news.

"It's a very important day for international justice and for the rule of law," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton from Belgrade.

"Justice has been served and a great obstacle on the Serbian road to the European Union has been removed," Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said.

The EU had made it clear that Serbia's failure to capture Mladic was a major obstacle to its hopes of joining the 27-nation bloc.

French President Nicolas Sarzoky, hosting a G8 summit in Normandy, said it was "another step towards Serbia joining (the EU) one day soon".

US President Barack Obama applauded Tadic for his "determined efforts" to ensure that Mladic faces justice.

The Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, Mladic's mentor was "sorry for General Mladic’s loss of freedom," his lawyer said.

Karadzic was captured in July 2008 and is himself fighting charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ICTY in The Hague.

Mladic's capture ends a tortuous political and judicial saga since he was first indicted in 1995 by the ICTY for his leadership role in the Bosnian war as the former Yugoslavia fell apart.

"After 16 years of waiting... this is a relief," Hajra Catic, a spokeswoman for families of Srebrenica victims, told AFP. Her son and husband were killed in the massacre.

Even after his indictment, Mladic lived almost openly in Belgrade until 2000 when former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was toppled. The ouster of his one-time mentor robbed Mladic of his untouchable status.

Even afterwards, though, Mladic hid under military protection, authorities in Serbia have admitted.

Date created : 2011-05-26


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