MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Joining us now is NPR's Tom Gjelten. He covered the war in Bosnia from start to finish and he wrote a book about the conflict. Tom, we are so glad you're with us.
TOM GJELTEN: Good to be with you, Michele.
NORRIS: Now, Mladic is most famous for presiding over the slaughter at Srebrenica. Remind us what happened there and what his role was.
GJELTEN: The Muslim population took shelter at the peacekeepers' base. General Mladic, who presided over this operation, personally assured the U.N. officers the people there would safe. But then, he ordered the men and boys taken away in buses and, according to witnesses and forensic evidence, he had them systematically shot. About 8,000 Muslim men and boys lined up with their hands tied behind their back and executed. They were then dumped in mass graves.
NORRIS: Can you give us a sense of what the man behind that was like personally?
GJELTEN: You know, there was actually a famous meeting between him and U.S. General Wesley Clark, who later went on to become the NATO commander, where General Mladic exchanged hats with him. And that moment was captured in a photograph that later embarrassed General Clark. But he was able to project this professional military demeanor that served him very well in that conflict.
NORRIS: He was especially popular, as I understand, with many Serbs. Why was he so popular with them?
GJELTEN: And I remember that when his troops captured Srebrenica, for example, Mladic actually referred back to a slaughter of Serb peasants in that area in 1804. And he said, I remember this, the time has finally come to take revenge on the Turks in this region. You know, it may sound crazy holding the Muslims responsible for something that happened 200 years earlier, but it was that linkage that he was able to make that made Mladic a hero to Serb nationalists.
NORRIS: Did the popularity with the Serbs account for him being able to escape arrest for so long?
GJELTEN: It did in a couple of ways, Michele. First of all, any Serbian government that had moved against Mladic would have faced some kind of popular backlash because he was so popular. And then, within the Serbian army, because of his long experience there, he had many, many close friends and protectors, made it very difficult for both political and security reasons to move against him for many years.
NORRIS: Any indication what led to his arrest after all these years?
GJELTEN: It's been very clear from the beginning that the primary condition would be to move against Mladic and that is what, I think, finally led to this political decision. It's not like Osama bin Laden here. This arrest is not the culmination of some great investigation. This was a political decision by the Serbian government finally to go after him.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten. He covered the war in Bosnia.
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