‘The Butcher’: Man behind war crime
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‘The Butcher’: Man behind war crime

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In the 1990s he was the brash general leading nationalist Bosnian Serbs towards a seemingly sweeping victory in Bosnia’s war.
Two decades later, he was an ailing old man trying in vain to delay judgment for genocide in a UN court.
On Wednesday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted Ratko Mladic, 74, in one of the highest-profile cases since the Nuremberg trials.
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Prosecutors demanded a life sentence for the man critics called the “Butcher of Bosnia”. His lawyers called for his acquittal, arguing he never approved mass killings of Muslim or Croat civilians and was a victim of Western anti-Serb bias.
Mladic was charged with genocide for the slaughter of 8000 unarmed Bosnian Muslim men and boys rounded up in the town of Srebrenica, and his forces’ 43-month-long siege of Sarajevo in which thousands of civilians were killed by artillery, mortar, tank and sniper fire from the rugged hills ringing the capital.
From the time of his ICTY indictment in mid-1995, before the war ended, it took 17 years to bring him to trial — a testament to the loyalty he inspired among Serbs who helped conceal him and to the resilience of their nationalist cause.
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Mladic was a general in the old communist Yugoslav People’s Army when the multinational Balkan republic began to disintegrate in 1991 with the secession of Slovenia and Croatia.
When Bosnia’s Serbs rose up in response to a referendum for independence by Muslims and Croats, Mladic took over Belgrade’s forces in Bosnia which swiftly overran 70 per cent of the country.
Serb paramilitaries entered the conflict with a campaign of murder, rape, mutilation and expulsion mainly against Bosnian Muslims.
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Dozens of towns were besieged with heavy weapons and villages were burned down as 22,000 UN peacekeeping troops stood by more or less helplessly, with orders not to take sides.
Mladic had a cameraman film the blitz of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica, showing him bronzed and fit at 53, extolling his “lads” and haranguing hapless Dutch UN peacekeepers who took his soldier’s word that the inhabitants would be safe.
Instead, 8000 were systematically executed in July 1995.
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The massacre was the grim culmination of a three-year conflict in which the beefy general had pounded Sarajevo, killing more than 11,000 people.
His goal, prosecutors said, was ethnic cleansing — the forcible extermination or expulsion of Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs to clear Bosnian lands for a “Greater Serbia”.
Only a combination of Western pressure and covert American arms and training for Croats and Muslims turned the tide in 1995.
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NATO air strikes did the rest. Mladic spent only half his time at large as a hunted fugitive. Even after Milosevic fell to a pro-democracy uprising in 2000, Mladic remained protected until 2005.
He received treatment at a top military hospital. Sporadic sightings put him at a Belgrade horse race or football match.
Most Bosnian Serbs remain convinced that Mladic is innocent, and that the tribunal is utterly biased against them. Of the 83 defendants the ICTY has convicted, more than 60 are Serbs.
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Defiant to the last, Mladic was ejected from a courtroom at the United Nations’ Yugoslav war crimes tribunal after yelling at judges: “Everything you said is pure lies. Shame on you!”
He was dispatched to a neighbouring room to watch on a TV screen as he was pronounced him guilty of 10 counts that also included war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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Human-rights organisations hailed the convictions as proof that even top military brass long considered untouchable cannot evade justice forever.
“This landmark verdict marks a significant moment for international justice and sends out a powerful message around the world that impunity cannot and will not be tolerated,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director.
For prosecutors, it was a fitting end to a 23-year effort to mete out justice at the UN tribunal for atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.
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Mladic’s conviction signalled the end of the final trial before the tribunal closes its doors by the end of the year.
But legal battles will continue. Mladic’s attorneys vowed to appeal his convictions on 10 charges related to a string of atrocities from the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to its bitter end.
“The defence team considers this judgment to be erroneous, and there will be an appeal, and we believe that the appeal will correct the errors of the trial chamber,” Mladic lawyer Dragan Ivetic said.
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Mladic’s son, Darko, said his father told him after the verdict that the tribunal was a “NATO commission ... trying to criminalise a legal endeavour of Serbian people in times of civil war to protect itself from the aggression.”
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