After 16 years at large, war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic arrived via Serbian government jet in Rotterdam Tuesday evening en route to The Hague, where he faces genocide charges after losing an extradition appeal earlier in the day.
REUTERS - Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic was extradited to the Netherlands on Tuesday to face genocide charges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague after 16 years on the run.
The 69-year-old former general landed in Rotterdam in the early evening in a Serbian government jet that was hauled into a hangar, out of sight of the media, after losing his final legal appeal in Belgrade earlier in the day.
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His arrest on Thursday, which triggered protests by Serb ultra-nationalists in Serbia and Bosnia, and swift extradition will smooth Serbia’s progress towards candidacy for European Union membership.
Two police helicopters were seen at the airport, one of which was expected to whisk him to the tribunal’s Scheveningen detention centre. The vicinity was sealed off by Dutch police.
Following Mladic’s transfer to The Hague, a panel of judges will be appointed and Mladic must appear in court “without delay”, usually 12 or 24 hours after a suspect’s arrival.
He was indicted by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 16 years ago for genocide 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 arrested in a farmhouse in northern Serbia belonging to a cousin.
Mladic’s last day in Serbia, where he spent most of his fugitive years, began with a police-escorted visit to the Belgrade grave of his daughter Ana, who committed suicide in 1994. During a prison visit on Monday, Mladic met his five-year old grandson, possibly for the first time, and his 10-year-old granddaughter.
Mladic’s wife and son paid a final visit to the prison before he was dispatched to the Belgrade airport with special police wearing balaclava masks, bulletproof vests and automatic rifles guarding the convoy of Land Rover vehicles.
Last appeal turned down
Serbia’s war crimes court earlier on Tuesday rejected an appeal from Mladic’s lawyer that poor health should stop the his extradition to The Hague, where former Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial.
Mladic’s lawyer and family argued Mladic was mentally unstable and too sick to be extradited to the tribunal. Yet the ex-general was able to elude justice for 16 years, a fact that in recent years held back Belgrade’s progress in achieving membership in the European Union as Brussels had insisted on his capture and transfer to the international war crimes court.
Mladic’s arrest also 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 U.N. 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 Bosnian government.
In the eastern town of Bratunac, near Srebrenica, about 2,000 Bosnian Serbs protested against Mladic’s extradition.
“This is a tragedy for the Serb people,” said Aco Malevski, an engineer. “Whatever happens in The Hague, Mladic will remain the Serb legend,” he told Reuters.
Protesters carried banners reading: “Mladic, thank you for Srebrenica” and “Stop to the Hague court tyranny”.
“Mladic was and will always be the true officer and I wish that he behaves so in The Hague,” said Zivana Obrenovic, 56, a teacher. “I believe that justice will be on his side and that he will prove that killings in Srebrenica happened behind his back.”
“I don’t expect a fair trial and the conviction of Mladic will mean the conviction of the Serb nation,” said Andjelko Obrenovic.
Around 10,000 Bosnian Serbs pledged support for Mladic in the Serb Republic capital Banja Luka, an affront to Muslims elsewhere in Bosnia who view the general as a brutal murderer.
Buses arrived from across the Serb Republic, many filled with his former soldiers bearing his photo.
“There are more Mladics in Serbia, they grow and will continue where he stopped,” Srdjan Nogo of the ultra-nationalist organisation Srpske Dveri from Belgrade told the crowd.
Such sentiments alarmed Muslims in Bosnia.
“Night after night I shiver in fear that someone may come and force us to leave the house and shoot at us,” said Emina Bajric, 72, a pensioner from Banja Luka.
“We have been through such an ordeal once and I am not sure if I could go through it again.”
Date created : 2011-05-31