Europe

Ratko Mladic trial told of Srebrenica chaos

  • 17 May 2012
  • From the section Europe

Prosecutors have described the chaos leading up to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, on the second day of Bosnian Serb ex-commander Ratko Mladic's trial.

Video shown to the court in The Hague showed panicking civilians swamping UN trucks as Bosnian Serb forces neared.

Gen Mladic faces 11 charges, including genocide, over the 1992-95 Bosnian war. A not guilty plea was entered for him.

However, the presiding judge later adjourned the hearing indefinitely due to disclosure errors by prosecutors.

The judge, Alphons Orie, said judges were still analysing the "scope and full impact" of the errors.

Prosecuting counsel Peter McCloskey said that the crimes at Srebrenica had never been in dispute so the prosecution's focus would be on individual criminal responsibility.

He said that the Bosnian Serb Army was not an "army out of control" and that Gen Mladic had been on the ground and in command.

"We have radio intercepts of VRS [Bosnian Serb] soldiers and officers discussing murders. We have video of two of the actual executions themselves. So let me be perfectly clear, the crime will not be the main focus of this prosecution. This case will be primarily about one issue. The individual criminal responsibility of Ratko Mladic," he said.

The court watched video of local people panicking in a UN compound outside Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 as Bosnian Serb forces approached, followed by scenes of Gen Mladic triumphantly entering the town.

Speaking directly into the camera he says: "We give this town to the Serb nation as a gift. The time has come to take revenge on the Muslims."

Gen Mladic has presented an alibi for a crucial period of three days that followed. But the prosecution say they do not accept that he was unaware of what was happening.

Another video playing in court showed Gen Mladic addressing a bus full of Muslims, telling them: "I am giving you your life as a gift."

More footage showed Gen Mladic berating Dutch UN peacekeepers.

Mr McCloskey concluded by saying that Srebrenica "was a Bosnian genocide that we must never forget".

During the evidence Gen Mladic listened intently, occasionally making notes.

The Srebrenica massacre was the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

Serb fighters overran the enclave in eastern Bosnia - supposedly under the protection of Dutch UN peacekeepers. Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys were separated off, shot dead and bulldozed into mass graves - later to be dug up and reburied in more remote spots.

Gen Mladic is also charged in connection with the 44-month siege of Sarajevo during which more than 10,000 people died.

On the first day of the trial on Wednesday, the prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) argued that Gen Mladic had intended to "ethnically cleanse" Bosnia.

Prosecuting counsel Dermot Groome said that by the time Gen Mladic and his troops had "murdered thousands in Srebrenica", they were "well-rehearsed in the craft of murder".

The trial had been scheduled to begin hearing evidence on 29 May.

However, at the end of Thursday's hearing, Judge Orie said: "In light of the prosecution's significant disclosure errors... the chamber hereby informs the parties that it has decided to suspend the start of the presentation of evidence.

"The chamber is still in the process of gathering information as to the scope and the full impact of this error. The chamber aims to announce the start date of the prosecutions evidence as soon as possible."

Gen Mladic spent 15 years on the run before being apprehended by Serb forces last May and sent to The Hague.

The number of crimes of which he stands accused has been almost halved to speed up his trial.

Judicial authorities have rejected defence calls to delay proceedings, most recently a petition to have the Dutch presiding judge replaced on grounds of alleged bias.

Strong emotions

The case has stirred up strong emotions among watching survivors, with some shouting "murderer" and "killer" from the court gallery.

However, while Gen Mladic's critics consider him a butcher, to some Serbs he is a national hero.

Gen Mladic suffered at least one stroke while in hiding and remains in frail health.

Some former Bosnian Serb commanders have already been convicted by the international court in connection with the Srebrenica killings.

In 2010 Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were sentenced to life in prison. Five other defendants were jailed for between five and 35 years.

The architect of the Balkan wars, former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, died in detention in his cell in 2006, before receiving a verdict.

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