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Career of Top Bosnian Serb War Crimes Suspect Marked by Trail of Alleged Atrocities

  • Slobodan Svrzo

The chief United Nations prosecutor says war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic is hiding in Serbia under the protection of the Serbian army. Mladic has been on the run for 10 years now. A profile of who he is and what he is alleged to have done, narrated by Mil Arcega.

Ratko Mladic was born in 1942, near Kalinovik in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and grew up during the socialist period in Yugoslavia's history, when the government made a conscious effort to foster a spirit of brotherhood and unity among the country's ethnic groups. He became an officer in Marshall Tito's Yugoslav People's Army.

As Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in 1991, he was sent to lead the Yugoslav Army's 9th Corps against the forces of Croatia, which had just declared its independence. He helped to establish the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a pseudo-state which lasted only as long as the war in Bosnia, then reverted to Croatian rule. During his time in Krajina, he helped the forces led by Milan Martic, now facing trial in The Hague, accused of ethnic cleansing.

In April 1992, just before the war in Bosnia started, Mladic was made a lieutenant general, for a "job well done" in Croatia. Mladic was sent to Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serb Assembly voted to create the Bosnian Serb Army, and appointed Mladic commander.

"On April 27, 1992, (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic announced a new state, Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro," former President Bill Clinton wrote in his memoirs, adding, "He then made a show of withdrawing his army from Bosnia, while leaving armaments, supplies and Bosnian Serb soldiers under leadership of his handpicked commander, Ratko Mladic."

What Mladic allegedly did next is documented by the United Nations War Crime Tribunal in The Hague. In 1995 it indicted him for genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws of war. He is accused of mass killings, persecution and terror against Bosnian Muslim and Croat civilians.

In detention facilities run by Bosnian Serb forces, such as Omarska, Keraterm and Luka, Bosniaks and Croats were tortured, raped and humiliated. Conditions in the facilities were inhumane; food rations and medical care inadequate.

Mladic is accused of being the mastermind and one of the key figures in the almost four-year siege of Sarajevo, during which several thousand Sarajevo citizens, including Serbs that stayed in their hometown, were killed or died of hunger and cold. Constant shelling destroyed apartment buildings and homes as well as many cultural and historic monuments.

In November of 1995, the Tribunal amended the charges against General Mladic. He was designated the main strategist and mastermind of the most brutal war crime after the World War II -- the massacre of more than 7500 Bosniak boys and men after taking over Srebrenica, an enclave protected by the UN.

After the city was heavily bombarded for five days, General Mladic, accompanied by Serbian TV crews, entered Srebrenica, promising that no innocent individual would be hurt if they surrendered to Serbian forces.

Women and children were transported by buses and trucks to Tuzla, while men, aged 12 to 77, were kept, allegedly just for interrogation. They were all killed over the next five days, many by commandos hired by Mladic.

After the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina came to an end, Mladic returned to Belgrade, enjoying the open support and protection of Milosevic's regime. He openly visited public places, expensive restaurants and soccer matches.

"They have to admit the fact that I am valuable, and that my people protect me," he said.

Milosevic could not protect him forever. The former Serbian and Yugoslav president was forced from power after NATO forces drove his armies from Kosovo. He was arrested and extradited to the Hague Tribunal.

With the fall of Milosevic, Mladic also disappeared from public life. According to the Belgrade officials he was last seen in June of 2002. Some reports say he took refuge in Yugoslav Army underground bunkers and military barracks.

Nicholas Burns is a U.S. Undersecretary of State. "He was protected on a Serb military base for eight years. He lived on a Serb military base. It doesn't stand to reason that the Serb government does not know where he is. And, so, we call upon Serb government in Belgrade to find him, and if he won't surrender voluntarily, to transfer him to The Hague. Until the Serb government does that, they can't have normal relationship with my country," said Mr. Burns.

The European Union is also increasing pressure on Serbia to hand Mladic over to the War Crimes Tribunal, warning Serbia's hopes for EU membership could be in jeopardy if it does not cooperate.

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