Ratko Mladic treated for cancer in 2009, says lawyer

Ratko Mladic pictured after his arrest The lawyer has previously raised doubts about Gen Mladic's health

Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic was treated for cancer two years ago while on the run as a war crimes suspect, his lawyer has said.

Milos Saljic provided documents apparently showing Gen Mladic had lymphoma, and was treated at a Belgrade hospital in 2009.

Gen Mladic, who is awaiting trial in The Hague, is due to make his initial appearance in the court on Friday.

He is accused of atrocities committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

He will be asked to plead on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including charges relating to the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica.

Milosevic fear

Mr Saljic showed the Associated Press news agency a document purportedly showing Gen Mladic was treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma from 20 April to 18 July 2009 at a Belgrade hospital.

Document purportedly showing Gen Mladic received treatment in 2009 The document said Gen Mladic was suffering from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

He said his client underwent surgery and chemotherapy.

The names of the hospital and the doctors who treated him appear to have been blacked out.

However, the authenticity of the document cannot be checked.

Gen Mladic is now in a prison hospital at The Hague, Reuters news agency quoted his lawyer, Aleksandar Aleksic, as saying.

"He has not had proper health care for years and his condition is not good," Mr Aleksic said.

Nerma Jelacic, spokeswoman for the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, declined to comment on the claim that Gen Mladic had had cancer.

Serbian officials dismissed the claim.

Quoted by AP, Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac said: "I really don't believe in that story, but we'll investigate."

Mr Saljic, who represented Gen Mladic in Belgrade before his extradition, had previously been quoted as saying by Serbian media that his client had suffered three strokes and two heart attacks, was too ill to be sent to The Hague and would not live to the end of a trial.

Serbian doctors who examined him last week said he was fit enough to be extradited.

Correspondents say tribunal officials will be anxious for Gen Mladic to avoid the fate of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack four years after the start of his own war crimes trial in 2006.

Mr Saljic told AP he had only been sent the hospital document on Monday, a day before Gen Mladic was flown out to the Netherlands.

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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"A man called me on the phone, asking if I was interested in a document that could prevent Ratko Mladic's extradition to The Hague," he said.

Lawyer appointed

When Gen Mladic appears in court at 0800 GMT on Friday, he will be asked to confirm formally his identity and enter a plea to each of the charges against him.

He may decide to delay entering a plea by 30 days, but if he has not done so at the end of this period the court will automatically enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.

He has been appointed a Serbian lawyer, Aleksandar Aleksic, as an interim counsel for Friday's hearing.

He may then choose a permanent counsel for the trial, or opt to conduct his own defence.

The prosecution has charged Gen Mladic with genocide, persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts and cruel treatment for his alleged part in a plot to achieve the "elimination or permanent removal" of Muslims from large parts of Bosnia in pursuit of a "Greater Serbia".

He is accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of about 7,500 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

He is also charged over the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo from May 1992 in which 10,000 people died.

Gen Mladic's arrest is considered crucial to Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

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