Mladic Tried To Show He Was 'Tough Military Guy'

Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is in the Hague to face war crimes charges. He was captured last week and a Serbian court rejected an appeal to delay his transfer. For some insight on Mladic, Mary Louise Kelly talks to veteran U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Ratko Mladic is in a prison cell in The Hague this morning. The general who commanded Bosnia's Serbian army was captured last week after spending years in hiding. A court in Serbia ruled yesterday he was healthy enough to be transferred from the capital Belgrade to The Hague, where he faces charges of genocide and war crimes.

KELLY: Now the question is how Ratko Mladic will fare at trial before the international court in The Hague, what kind of defense he may mount and how he'll stand up under all the pressure.

For some insight on Mladic the man, we've turned to veteran U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill.

And, Christopher Hill, do you remember when you first met Ratko Mladic?

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Former ambassador, Iraq): Actually, I met him in September of 1995 and I was with Ambassador Holbrooke. And we had gone to a hunting lodge owned by President Milosevic.

And we sat down with Milosevic and Milosevic said, you know, I cannot negotiate this lifting of the siege of Sarajevo. You recall at the time we had NATO bombs falling and we were saying to the Serbs, you needed to pull back your forces from Sarajevo.

So Milosevic said I can't do it, but there's someone in the next room who can. And he said, I've brought Ratko Mladic and Radovan�Karadzic�here to talk. And he brought them into the room and they sat down and we began a very difficult discussion that night.

KELLY: And what was your first impression of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb general?

Mr. HILL: Well, you know, he was very interested in showing what a tough military guy he was. He wore his, you know, had his full field uniform on as if he had just come out of combat operations or something.

I had heard a lot about him. My military contacts both in Macedonian and Serbia always told me that he was last in class in the military academy.

You know, in the U.S. we may get some kind of reverse snob appeal from not being a good student or something. And in that part of the world it was not a flattering thing to say. So I kind of got what I expected - a kind of mean, grizzled looking guy in his field uniform sitting down clearly under protest. He didn't seem to be very happy.

MONTAGNE: Did he ever play anything resembling a constructive role once he was brought into the table? I mean, did you ever since that he had any genuine interest in ending the war in Yugoslavia?

Mr. HILL: On the contrary. It was interesting to watch the dynamic between him and his fellow indicted war criminal, Radovan�Karadzic. Several times Mladic said I'm not going to sit here and he stood up and began to leave. And Karadzic brought him back to the table. So ironically - I mean, I say ironically because Karadzic is no Easter Bunny either - it was�Karadzic�who was trying to keep the talks going and having to bring Mladic back to the table.

KELLY: Now, it was not long after those talks where you were trying to help bring about an end to the war that Ratko Mladic and Radovan�Karadzic�were indicted as war criminals. And yet in Mladic's case he continued to be spotted at soccer matches around Belgrade. Even as an indicted war crimes suspect, he was still out making appearances.

Mr. HILL: Yes. First of all, the chronology you described is correct. We met with him before he was indicted, though; it hardly came as a surprise that he was indicted. Then you're quite right. And later on he started making kind of semi-public appearance in Serbia and certainly giving off the impression that he was being taken care of there and that certainly he was welcome there.

Of course, those visits petered out quickly after Milosevic was gone. And then we didn't hear from him for quite a while.

KELLY: You know, the crimes that he's being charged with are truly horrific -the massacre at Srebrenica, for example. In your time that you spent with him did you ever see him express any remorse for any of his actions?

Mr. HILL: None whatsoever. During that evening long - actually it went until well after midnight - negotiation, at one point I was seated next to him at dinner. And there was absolutely no sense of remorse.

On the contrary, it was all this sort of sense of grievance, a sort of right wing highly nationalist view of Serbia's role in history and, you know, absolutely, you know, self-justifying.

And I'll be very curious to see what his, you know, I-knew-nothing defense is going to be, because he was right there in the middle of Srebrenica. He was there with the Dutch commander. You recall famously he slaughtered a pig right in front of the Dutch commander just to give a sense of his brutality. So I'll be very surprised if he tries to say I knew nothing.

KELLY: Chris Hill, thanks very much.

Mr. HILL: Thank you.

KELLY: That's former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill.

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