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Mladic appears before UN court

04 june 2011, 17:05
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Ratko Mladic salutes at his initial appearance at the UN Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague on June 3, 2011. ©AFP
Ratko Mladic salutes at his initial appearance at the UN Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague on June 3, 2011. ©AFP
Wartime Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic denounced genocide charges against him as "obnoxious" Friday, telling a UN court he simply defended his country while insisting he was gravely ill, AFP reports.

"I would like to read and receive these obnoxious charges against me," the man known as the "Butcher of Bosnia" said at his first appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since his arrest last week after 16 years on the run.

Better known from media images as a stocky commander in war fatigues, Mladic appeared before a panel of three judges in The Hague in a grey suit and gold and black tie, markedly older and thinner but still defiant.

"I defended my people and my country," the 69-year-old ex-general charged with Europe's worst atrocities since World War II said from the dock.

"I did not kill Croats as Croats, I was just defending my country," Mladic insisted after saluting the judges with his left hand.

He said he was "a gravely ill man" and needed more time to study the "monstrous words" in the indictment before entering a plea.

But he insisted he did not need help to move around after court guards offered to take his arm and guide him to the dock.

"I am General Mladic and the whole world knows who I am," he said. "I don't want to be taken by the arm like I am a blind man. I can walk by myself."

Widows and mothers of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys that forms the crux of the genocide charges, followed the proceedings live on television in Bosnia.

"I hope God makes him burn in hell," hissed one woman, seated among the gravestones of victims buried at the Potocari memorial centre.

Presiding judge Alphons Orie read the charge sheet as Mladic listened impassively.

"Ratko Mladic and others formed the objective to eliminate the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica by killing the men and boys and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly men," the judge said.

"Ratko Mladic was the most senior member of the Bosnian army and in this capacity he had effective control."

The judge set July 4 as the date for Mladic's next appearance, by when he will be required to enter pleas to the 11 charges against him. Failing to do so, an automatic not-guilty plea will be entered on his behalf.

Accused of committing atrocities committed during Bosnia's 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people, Mladic was arrested in northeast Serbia last Thursday.

He is accused of masterminding the Srebrenica massacre -- Europe's worst mass killing since World War II -- and the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo from May 1992 in which 10,000 died.

He was flown to the Netherlands on Tuesday to stand trial before the ICTY after Serbian judges denied his appeal on health grounds and found him fit to stand trial.

On Thursday Mladic's lawyer Milos Saljic had said that his client was treated for cancer two years ago while evading genocide charges.

The ex-general had also suffered three strokes and two heart attacks, the lawyer said.

The trial is not expected to start for months, and should last several years.

Mladic's one-time mentor, Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, died in The Hague four years into his own genocide trial in 2006, of a heart attack.

And his former political chief, Radovan Karadzic, has been conducting his own defence in a war crimes trial that started in October 2009.

Like his former ally, Mladic faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. If he pleads guilty, there will be no trial and a date will be set for a sentencing hearing.

The tribunal had rented extra space at a conference centre across the road to handle the overflow of journalists, victims and other visitors jostling to catch a glimpse of the ex-general in the dock.

"Mladic is a big criminal. He murdered my son, my husband, my two brothers," 69-year-old Kada Hotic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, told AFP outside the tribunal next to big photo of Mladic in war fatigues and the words: "Mass murderer".

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