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Mladic Refuses to Offer Plea to War Crimes Charges

  • Lauren Comiteau

Wartime Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic gestures at his long-awaited first appearance before a U.N. judge in The Hague, June 3, 2011

Wartime Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic gestures at his long-awaited first appearance before a U.N. judge in The Hague, June 3, 2011

The former military commander of the Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic, made his first public appearance at the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia after 16 years as a fugitive. During his arraignment, he refused to plead to the 11 counts against him - including genocide, extermination and murder.

The whole world watched Friday to get a first glimpse of the man accused of committing the worst crimes since World War II. The once formidable general, stripped of his military uniform and in a dark grey suit, had to be supported by two guards and lowered into the defendant's seat. He gave a military salute before he sat down. His speech was slow as he started off, but he became more defiant when presiding Judge Alphonse Orie asked him if he wanted to listen to the charges against him. He said he did not want to hear a single word.

But the judge read out all 11 charges anyway. Mladic, often wiping his face with a tissue, listened intently, sometimes shaking his head no, for example when the judge read out the genocide charge for the Srebrenica massacres. When he was asked if he wanted to enter a plea, he declined. Mladic spoke through an interpreter.

"Mr. Orie, I would like to receive what you’ve read out just now, these obnoxious charges read out against me," Mladic said. "Because I need more than a month for these monstrous words, the ones I’ve never heard before, those that are included in this indictment."

A handful of survivors of the war turned up to see Mladic in the dock. Outside the court, they held signs saying "Butcher of the Balkans." Inside the courtroom, separated from the man they hold responsible for the deaths of their loved ones, they shouted butcher and monster, or softy cried. Faroudin Alic survived the massacres at Srebrenica by walking through the forest to Tuzla, declared a safe haven by the United Nations. Now living in the Netherlands, he was one of those watching Mladic in court.

He said that while he was satisfied with the general's arrest, now that he saw him, he felt worse and could not explain why.

Mladic sometimes turned to smile at his public in the gallery. When it came to the much-speculated topic of his health, he told the judges he was a gravely ill man. But details were discussed behind closed doors, at his request. As the session wound down, Mladic was visibly angry at the proceedings and stared ahead. He insisted he only defended his country, and he will do so again in court. He also appeared to regain some of his physical strength.

He said he did not want to be helped as if he were a blind man, saying "I am General Mladic and the whole world knows who I am."

The judges reminded Mladic that he alone is being held criminally responsible at this tribunal. They then adjourned court for one month to give him time to enter his plea. If he refuses again, the judges will enter a not guilty plea for him.

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