THE HAGUE, June 1 – Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic has been placed in custody in The Hague to await trial for genocide and war crimes after almost 16 years on the run.
"We are very happy, we are very pleased that we have him in our custody," International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told AFP shortly after Mladic\’s arrival at a UN detention unit.
"He has been one of our longest running fugitives."
Television images showed a plane with "Republic of Serbia" on the side touch down at Rotterdam airport at 7:45 pm local time (1745 GMT) Tuesday and taxi to a heavily guarded hangar followed by two black jeeps.
Around 9:30 pm at The Hague prison, a helicopter landed and another one circled overhead as a convoy of four black vehicles brought Mladic to the prison, an AFP correspondent reported.
Jelacic said the former military leader would be examined by a doctor within hours of his arrival and then "put in an isolation cell for the first few days."
The prosecution has charged Mladic, 69, 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 8,000 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.
Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz is to hold a press conference at noon (1000 GMT) on Wednesday, his office said.
Earlier Tuesday, Serbian judges rejected Mladic\’s appeal against a transfer to the UN-backed ICTY. Dismissing his complaints of ill health, they said he was fit to stand trial for alleged atrocities committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the news.
"This is an important moment for reconciliation in the region and for international justice," she said in a statement late Tuesday.
"Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who suffered and lost loved ones during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina."
Europe\’s most wanted man was arrested in the village of Lazarevo in northeast Serbia on Thursday.
In The Hague, Mladic was to join behind bars wartime Bosnian Serb political chief Radovan Karadzic, currently on trial.
Mladic faces a life sentence if found guilty.
Upon arrival, he would have been read his rights and asked if he wished to talk to a lawyer. Under the tribunal\’s rules of procedure, he will then appear before a three-judge bench "without delay".
"The preliminary hearing is usually held within two to three days after the person\’s arrival, so we can expect that to happen some time this week," said Jelacic.
On his initial appearance, Mladic will be asked to plead to the charges on the indictment.
If he refuses, he will be given another 30 days to reconsider, after which the court will enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
Mladic has already declared through his son Darko Mladic that he had "nothing to do" with the Srebrenica massacre.
About 200 people, mainly journalists, awaited Mladic\’s arrival at the UN\’s detention unit at Scheveningen in The Hague Tuesday.
One of them was 24-year-old Nikita Teodorovic, wrapped in the blue, yellow and white flag of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
"I hope when he arrives and sees the flag that he\’ll go red with shame," she told AFP.
Earlier Tuesday in Serbia Mladic visited the grave of his daughter Ana, who committed suicide aged 23 reportedly because of the accusations against her father.
Serbia has remained generally peaceful following news of Mladic\’s arrest and extradition. But thousands of Bosnian Serbs rallied on Tuesday to show their support for Mladic.
Police said up to 10,000 protesters gathered in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska, to decry Mladic\’s arrest in Serbia last week and hail him as "brave son".