Once-brash general reduced to frail, elderly defendant

SARAJEVO • In the 1990s he was the burly, brash general leading nationalist Bosnian Serbs towards a seemingly sweeping victory in Bosnia's war.

Two decades later, he is reduced to an ailing old man awaiting judgment on genocide charges in a United Nations court.

Yesterday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague found Ratko Mladic, 74, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in one of the highest-profile war crimes cases since the post-World War Two Nuremberg trials of Germany's Nazi leadership.

Radovan Karadzic, political leader of Bosnia's Serbs in the 1992-95 war, and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who armed and funded Bosnian Serb forces, were tried on the same charges. The ICTY convicted Karadzic last year and jailed him for 40 years. Milosevic died in his cell in 2006 before his trial ended.

Mladic said he wanted to be remembered as a defender of Serbs in a struggle for survival against Muslims dating back centuries, and made urgent by a Muslim-Croat vote for Bosnia's independence from Serbian-led Yugoslavia in 1992.

The son of a World War II Yugoslav partisan killed in 1945, Mladic was a general in the old communist Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) when the multinational Balkan republic began to disintegrate in 1991 with the secession of Slovenia and Croatia.

When Bosnia's Serbs rose up in response to a referendum for independence by Muslims and Croats, Mladic took over Belgrade's forces in Bosnia and they swiftly overran 70 per cent of the country with a combination of daring, ruthlessness and brutality.

Mladic said he wanted to be remembered as a defender of Serbs in a struggle for survival against Muslims dating back centuries, and made urgent by a Muslim-Croat vote for Bosnia's independence from Serbian-led Yugoslavia in 1992.

Serb paramilitaries entered the conflict with a campaign of murder, rape, mutilation and expulsion mainly against Bosnian Muslims. Towns were besieged with heavy weapons and villages were burned down as 22,000 UN peacekeeping troops stood by more or less helplessly, with orders not to take sides.

Only a combination of Western pressure and covert American arms and training for Croats and Muslims turned the tide in 1995 against Mladic's army, ultimately depriving it of equipment and fuel supplies from Serbia. Nato air strikes did the rest.

He spent only half his time at large as a hunted fugitive. Even after Milosevic fell to a pro-democracy uprising in 2000, Mladic remained well protected in various Belgrade apartments until 2005.

When finally arrested in the shabby rural farmhouse, he put up no resistance. His right arm was lame, the apparent result of an untreated stroke.

"I am a very old man... and I am not important," Mladic told the tribunal. "It matters what kind of legacy I will leave behind, among my people."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2017, with the headline 'Once-brash general reduced to frail, elderly defendant'. Print Edition | Subscribe