Mladic, 'Butcher of Bosnia', back in court as trial nears end

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Former feared Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, once dubbed "The Butcher of Bosnia", is back in a UN court Monday, December 5, as his trial for genocide and war crimes in the 1990s conflict nears an end.

More than 4 years after Mladic's trial opened at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, prosecutors will begin 3 days of closing arguments and will likely call for a long jail term.

Defiant to the last, Mladic, 74, has denied 11 charges including two of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian conflict which saw Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.

More than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others were left homeless in the conflict, one of several that erupted in the death throes of the former Yugoslavia.

The defense, which has repeatedly sought to have the case thrown out or the judges dismissed, will then have 3 days to wrap up their case, starting on Friday, December 9.

It has maintained that Mladic and his forces were acting in self-defense to protect against attacks by Bosnian Muslim forces and that he is the victim of a "political" trial.

Mladic, the brutish military commander of Serb forces during the Bosnian conflict, came to symbolize a barbaric plan to rid multi-ethnic Bosnia of Croats and Muslims, fueled by the desire for a "Greater Serbia" to establish an ethnically pure state.

Slow justice

He is notably accused of being behind the punishing 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives when residents were terrorized by a relentless campaign of shelling and sniping.

Mladic also stands accused for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, who were rounded up and shot when his forces overran Dutch UN peacekeepers in what was supposed to be a UN safe haven.

Families of the victims are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the last case before the ICTY, set up before the wars ended to try perpetrators of atrocities, but a verdict is not expected until some time in 2017.

President of the Mothers of Srebrenica group, Munira Subasic, told Agence France-Presse (AFP), they were hoping the prosecution would persuade the judges to jail Mladic for life.

In March, his political ally Radovan Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years in jail, including for the Srebrenica genocide. Karadzic is now appealing that verdict.

Subasic regretted that justice has been so long coming. "Those who still believe Karadzic and Mladic are heroes would perhaps have thought differently today if they had been sentenced very quickly after the war," she said.

Hero back home

Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in Belgrade in 2000, died in 2006 during his war crimes trial at the court, and Karadzic and Mladic remain the highest-profile actors from the wars to see their trials completed.

Even though the ICTY indicted Mladic in July 1995, he managed to evade capture for some 16 years.

He initially lived openly despite an international arrest warrant, until going underground in 2000 when Milosevic was ousted and Belgrade began to try to shake off its international isolation.

Finally captured at a relative's house in May 2011, Mladic was transferred to a UN detention center in The Hague where he remains behind bars.

His trial opened in May 2012, and has been dogged by Mladic's ill-health. His lawyer told AFP that he spends his time writing letters, and receiving visits from family and friends. He also likes to play chess against his old ally, Karadzic.

Back home, Mladic has however remained a hero to many, who have denounced the ICTY hearings.

"He doesn't have much trust in this tribunal. He doesn't have high hopes," his lawyer Branko Lukic told AFP.

"He thinks that if they were to judge him according to the facts, he would be acquitted. But if it's a political trial he will be convicted." –