Serbia judges reject Ratko Mladic extradition appeal

Ratko Mladic pictured after his arrest
Image caption Gen Mladic had evaded capture for 16 years

Serbia's war crimes court has rejected Ratko Mladic's appeal against his transfer to the UN tribunal in The Hague to face genocide charges.

The Belgrade court took just hours to make its decision after receiving the appeal papers on Tuesday morning.

Gen Mladic's lawyer posted the appeal on Monday, saying the former Bosnian Serb commander needed medical attention and was too ill to face trial.

Doctors who examined him on Friday said he was fit enough to be extradited.

The 69-year-old was seized last Thursday in Lazarevo village, north of Belgrade, having been on the run for 16 years.

Gen Mladic is accused of crimes against humanity committed during the Bosnian war, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 7,500 Muslim men and boys.

Delaying tactic?

Now the appeal has been rejected, Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said Gen Mladic would be sent to the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague "as soon as possible".

The extradition order must first be signed by Serbia's justice minister, who will hold a news conference later on Tuesday, prompting speculation Gen Mladic could be put on a flight to The Hague later in the day, says the BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade.

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Media captionOmarska concentration camp victim Kemal Pervanic: "My guards were my former teachers"

From there, he is expected to be flown by helicopter to the ICTY detention unit in the city's Scheveningen neighbourhood.

Once he has arrived at the tribunal, there will be an initial hearing before preparations begin for his trial on genocide and other charges.

Despite a decision by a Belgrade court that Gen Mladic was fit enough to be handed over to the UN court, defence lawyer Milos Saljic said earlier he would request another independent medical examination, saying his client's health had deteriorated since his arrest.

Serbian court officials had earlier dismissed the claim of ill health as a delaying tactic, dismissing as unfounded media reports that Gen Mladic had hearing difficulties and that his right arm was paralysed - possibly as a result of a stroke.

Candle and flowers

Earlier on Tuesday Gen Mladic had been allowed to visit the grave of his daughter Ana, albeit under heavy security.

Ana Mladic committed suicide in 1994 aged 23, reportedly shooting herself with her father's favourite pistol after she read about his alleged crimes in a magazine.

During the 20-minute visit to her grave, Gen Mladic lit a candle and he left a small white bouquet of flowers with a red rose in the middle, said Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, Bruno Vekaric.

War in the former Yugoslavia 1991 - 1999

The former Yugoslavia was a Socialist state created after German occupation in World War II and a bitter civil war. A federation of six republics, it brought together Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Slovenes and others under a comparatively relaxed communist regime. Tensions between these groups were successfully suppressed under the leadership of President Tito.
After Tito's death in 1980, tensions re-emerged. Calls for more autonomy within Yugoslavia by nationalist groups led in 1991 to declarations of independence in Croatia and Slovenia. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army lashed out, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia. Thousands were killed in the latter conflict which was paused in 1992 under a UN-monitored ceasefire.
Bosnia, with a complex mix of Serbs, Muslims and Croats, was next to try for independence. Bosnia's Serbs, backed by Serbs elsewhere in Yugoslavia, resisted. Under leader Radovan Karadzic, they threatened bloodshed if Bosnia's Muslims and Croats - who outnumbered Serbs - broke away. Despite European blessing for the move in a 1992 referendum, war came fast.
Yugoslav army units, withdrawn from Croatia and renamed the Bosnian Serb Army, carved out a huge swathe of Serb-dominated territory. Over a million Bosnian Muslims and Croats were driven from their homes in ethnic cleansing. Serbs suffered too. The capital Sarajevo was besieged and shelled. UN peacekeepers, brought in to quell the fighting, were seen as ineffective.
International peace efforts to stop the war failed, the UN was humiliated and over 100,000 died. The war ended in 1995 after NATO bombed the Bosnian Serbs and Muslim and Croat armies made gains on the ground. A US-brokered peace divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities, a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation lightly bound by a central government.
In August 1995 the Croatian army stormed areas in Croatia under Serb control prompting thousands to flee. Soon Croatia and Bosnia were fully independent. Slovenia and Macedonia had already gone. Montenegro left later. In 1999 Kosovo's ethnic Albanians fought Serbs in another brutal war to gain independence. Serbia ended the conflict beaten, battered and alone.
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Gen Mladic's arrest is considered crucial to Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

Darko Mladic has said his father had told him he was not responsible for the killings in Srebrenica, committed after his troops overran the town in July 1995.

Following the arrest of Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Gen Mladic became the most prominent Bosnian war crimes suspect still at large.

He was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 for genocide over Srebrenica - the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II - and other alleged crimes.

Having lived freely in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, he disappeared after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001.

On Sunday, thousands of people rallied in Belgrade against his arrest, hailing the general as a Serbian national hero and decrying the pro-Western government of President Boris Tadic for arresting him.

About 100 people were arrested during clashes with police.

The government will hope Gen Mladic's departure will quell any further demonstrations by his supporters, adds our correspondent.