Mladic Doesn't Enter Plea At War Crimes Tribunal
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander accused of genocide, has appeared for the first time before the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. It was a preliminary hearing. Mladic declined to enter a plea. NPR's Philip Reeves followed the proceedings.
PHILIP REEVES: This was the first chance the world's had for a really close look at the man accused of a major role in the worst atrocities on European soil since the Second World War.
Prosecutors say Mladic orchestrated the long and bloody siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. Clad in a light gray pinstriped suit, Mladic looked much frailer than the burly and confident general who once commanded Serbian forces. He says he's gravely ill. As the hearing began, Mladic seemed alert.
Judge ALPHONS ORIE (War Crimes Tribunal): Good morning to everyone in and around this courtroom.
REEVES: Alphons Orie, the Dutch judge presiding over the court, asked Mladic if he could follow the proceedings. Mladic said he could. The judge then read out the allegations against him, a litany of atrocities from the war over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Judge ORIE: From around the 11th of July in 1995 until the 1st of November 1995, Ratko Mladic participated in this joint criminal enterprise by killing the men and boys and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly men from Srebrenica.
REEVES: The judge said Mladic knew or had reason to know that war crimes were being committed by the army under his command. From time to time Mladic rubbed his face and shook his head. He occasionally scowled and seemed to wince. At other times he gave the judge a thumbs up and a wave.
Judge Orie asked Mladic if he wanted to enter a plea or to exercise his right to wait for up to 30 days to do so. This was Mladic's reply.
Mr. RATKO MLADIC: (Through translator) I would like to receive what you've read out just now, the obnoxious charges leveled against me. I want to read this properly, to give it some proper thought, together with my lawyers. Because I need more than a month for these monstrous words, the ones that I've never heard before, those that were included in this indictment. I have never heard of any such thing, nor can I understand that it is that way.
REEVES: Mladic entered no plea. The court went into closed session to allow Mladic to discuss his health. When it reconvened, Mladic acknowledged the presence of journalists from around the world and made another address.
Mr. MLADIC: I defended my people and my country, not Radko Mladic. Now I am defending myself. I am defending Radko Mladic before you.
REEVES: Mladic was transferred to the Hague on Tuesday from Belgrade, following his arrest by Serb forces after 16 years in hiding. He said he'd been treated with fairness and dignity, but then made a confused complaint about the balaclava-clad security forces who'd handled him. He continued...
Mr. MLADIC: (Through translator) (Unintelligible) I can tell you, I defended my country. I, Radko Mladic, I did not kill Croats as Croats, and I'm not killing anyone either in Libya or in Africa. I will keep defending my country.
REEVES: Mladic had another complaint about his treatment. He said he didn't want to be held and helped to walk as if he was blind, a reference to the tight security surrounding him. He said he was General Mladic and that the whole world knows him. The judge adjourned the hearing until the 4th of July and sent Mladic back to his detention cell. The trial's not expected to start in earnest for months.
Philip Reeves, NPR News.
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