, The Hague, Netherlands, Dec 5 – Former Serb commander Ratko Mladic led a relentless military campaign during the 1990s Bosnian war to ensure Muslims “vanished” from the territory, UN prosecutors said Monday.
At the height of the war triggered by the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, Mladic told the Bosnian Serbs they had an “opportunity to create not only any kind of state, but an all-Serbian state.”
“His concern was not that Muslims might create a state, his concern was to have them vanish completely,” prosecutor Alan Tieger told judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Mladic, 74, has denied 11 charges including two of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian conflict in which more than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others were left homeless.
Prosecutors are wrapping up their case in three days of closing arguments in Mladic’s trial, which began in May 2012, and are likely to ask for a long jail term. The defence will follow on Friday, but a verdict is not expected until next year.
The UN prosecutors poured scorn on defence claims that Mladic was not to blame for some of the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II — including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Mladic had “command and control” over the Bosnian Serb forces, said another ICTY prosecutor Arthur Traldi, adding that “in carrying out the ethnic cleansing campaign, his… forces committed a constant pattern of crimes throughout Serbian-claimed territory.”
– ‘Highway to hell’ –
It was Mladic “who was in charge, who called the shots”, Tieger added, arguing Mladic had even “bragged about” his exploits. And he denounced the defence bid “to transform Mladic into a benign but ineffective officer” who sought to protect Muslims.
Mladic even “took credit” for a plan which “radically altered the demographic picture of the portions of Bosnia claimed by the Bosnian Serbs.”
As the fighting ignited first in Croatia and then in Bosnia “Ratko Mladic was a key figure on that highway to hell,” Tieger added.
Dressed in a grey suit and a blue and white tie, Mladic appeared sombre but in good health Monday, after his trial has been dogged by his ill-health.
The brutish military commander came to symbolise a barbaric plan to rid multi-ethnic Bosnia of Croats and Muslims to establish an “ethnically pure” Greater Serbia.
He is notably accused of being behind the punishing 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in a relentless campaign of shelling and sniping.
Mladic is also charged with his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, who were rounded up and shot when his forces overran Dutch UN peacekeepers in the enclave.
– Long wait for justice –
Families of the victims are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the case, the last from the former Yugoslavia being heard before the ICTY, which is wrapping up after being set up at the height of the conflict to try perpetrators of atrocities.
Munira Subasic, who heads the Mothers of Srebrenica group, attended the hearing on Monday on what would have been the 42nd birthday of her son who was killed in the genocide in 1995.
Subasic has said it was unfortunate that justice had been so long coming.
“Those who still believe (Radovan) Karadzic and Mladic are heroes would perhaps have thought differently today if they had been sentenced very quickly after the war,” she told AFP recently.
Karadzic, sentenced to 40 years in March, and Mladic remain the highest-profile actors from the wars to see their trials completed after former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic died in his UN detention cell in 2006.
Indicted in July 1995, Mladic evaded capture for some 16 years. Finally captured in May 2011, he was transferred to a UN detention centre in The Hague where he remains behind bars.