Sat, May 28, 2011 - Page 1 News List

War crimes court dismisses Mladic health argument

AP, BELGRADE, SERBIA

Ratko Mladic suffered two strokes while on the run, has a partially paralyzed right hand and can barely speak, his son said before yesterday’s hearing on the Bosnian Serb military commander’s extradition to face war crimes charges before a UN tribunal.

Serbian war crimes prosecutors say the health issue appeared to be a tactic to delay Mladic’s extradition. A tribunal spokeswoman said from The Hague that it was capable of dealing with any health problems.

Son Darko Mladic told reporters after visiting his father in jail that “We will ask that he be transferred to a hospital.”

A police photo of Mladic showed him looking hollow-cheeked and shrunken after a decade-and-a-half on the run, a far cry from the beefy commander accused of personally orchestrating some of the worst horrors of the Balkan wars.

The photo taken moments after his arrest in a tiny northern Serbian village shows a clean-shaven Mladic with thinning hair wearing a navy blue baseball hat and looking up with wide eyes, as if in surprise.

After spending a night in jail, Mladic was due back in a Belgrade court for a second hearing on his extradition to to the UN tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands on charges that include directing the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, and involvement in the relentless four-year siege of Sarajevo.

A Thursday extradition hearing was adjourned after the judge cut short the questioning because Mladic’s “poor physical state” left him unable to communicate, defense lawyer Milos Saljic said.

State TV showed Mladic walking haltingly into the closed-door extradition hearing. Saljic said Mladic needed medical care and “should not be moved in such a state.”

Deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said that Mladic, 69, is taking a lot of medicine, but “responds very rationally to everything that is going on.”

Vekaric said extradition proceedings should take no more than a week.

“What’s important is that his identity has been established,” Vekaric said. “It now depends on his defense whether they will launch appeals, but the maximum deadline for his extradition is a week.”

Mladic was arrested by intelligence agents in a raid before dawn on Thursday at a relative’s house in a village in northern Serbia. The act was trumpeted by the government as a victory for a country worthy of EU membership and Western embrace.

One of the world’s most-wanted fugitives, Mladic was the top commander of the Bosnian Serb army during Bosnia’s 1992 to 1995 war, which killed more than 100,000 people and drove another 1.8 million from their homes. Thousands of Muslims and Croats were killed, tortured or driven out in a campaign to purge the region of non-Serbs.

He was accused by the Hague tribunal of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The residents of the village where Mladic was caught remained defiant.

“I know everybody in this village. Even if we saw him, they would have never been able to find him, if we knew,” said Nedeljko Arsic, a local resident. “We would have been his slaves and we would have hidden him and they would have never been able to find him and arrest him.”

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