Serbia extradites war crimes fugitive
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - May 31, 2011 (WPVI) -- Serbia extradited Ratko Mladic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal on Tuesday where he will stand trial for genocide, 16 years after he was charged by the court for the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II.
A Serbian government jet carrying the Bosnian Serb wartime military commander landed in Rotterdam and pulled into a hangar, out of view of reporters and live television cameras. A Dutch police helicopter stood just outside the hangar's entrance, and police vehicles also pulled up nearby.
The government plane touched down at Rotterdam airport hours after judges in Belgrade rejected his appeal to delay his extradition on grounds of ill health, and the Serbian justice minister authorized his handover to U.N. officials in The Hague.
Mladic was being taken to the U.N. detention unit near The Hague to undergo a formal identification process. He also would be examined by the unit's medical staff.
Within a few days he will be brought before a U.N. judge for a preliminary hearing.
In Belgrade, Justice Minister Snezana Malovic said the handover marked the fulfillment of Serbia's "international and moral obligation."
"Mladic is charged with the most serious crimes against humanity and the most serious violations of international humanitarian law," she said.
Mladic faces charges of genocide and other war crimes for atrocities committed by Serb troops under his command during Bosnia's 1992-5 war, including the notorious Srebrenica massacre in July of 1995 and the 44-month siege of the capital, Sarajevo.
Mladic's extradition brought a satisfied response from war victims.
"This means a lot to the victims of genocide," said Munira Subasic, head of the Sarajevo-based Association of Srebrenica Massacre Survivors.
"Mladic has left and we believe that the evil will speak out of him and that he will tell the truth," Subasic said.
In Bosnia, Serb nationalists staged demonstrations in support of Mladic, some carrying banners that said: "The eagle is gone but the nest remains."
Mladic attorney Milos Saljic visited him in his jail cell in the early afternoon and said the former general was crying and very emotional during what he called a farewell visit by his wife and sister. They brought him a big suitcase with clothing he will need in The Hague, Saljic said.
Mladic was arrested Thursday in a village north of Belgrade after 16 years on the run, looking worn and disheveled. In addition to the appeal, Saljic had asked for a team of doctors to examine Mladic, who is said to have suffered at least two strokes.
Earlier Tuesday, Mladic was briefly released from his jail cell, traveling in a secret high-security armored convoy to a suburban cemetery where he visited the grave of his daughter.
At the black marble grave, Mladic left a burning candle and a small white bouquet of flowers with a red rose in the middle.
"We didn't announce his visit to the grave because it is his private thing and because it represented a security risk," deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said. "The whole operation lasted for exactly 22 minutes and passed without a glitch. He was at the grave for a few minutes. I've been told that he reacted emotionally."
Mladic had repeatedly demanded that he be allowed to visit the grave, a memorial he had avoided for years as he tried to remain underground.
"We had cameras there and 24-hour surveillance, so he could absolutely not show up there," chief Serbian war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told The Associated Press.
Mladic's 23-year-old daughter Ana, a medical student, committed suicide in 1994 with her father's pistol. She reportedly didn't leave a suicide note, but media at the time said she ended her life at Mladic's Belgrade family house because of depression caused by her father's role in the war.
Mladic has rejected the official investigation into her case and claimed she was killed by his wartime enemies, saying the pistol was found in her left hand, although she was right-handed.
Kadira Gabeljic, whose husband and two sons were killed in the Srebrenica slaughter, reacted with disbelief and anger at Mladic's visit to his daughter's grave, saying she almost fainted at the news.
So far, she said, forensic experts have managed to exhume only part of the remains of her sons, Mesud and Meho, who were 16 and 21 when killed.
"He was allowed to do it, and I am still searching for my children for the past 16 years, ever since Srebrenica happened," she said.
"My husband had been found, but what about my children?" she said. "I will wait for years. I might even die before their complete remains are found."
Serb nationalists in Serbia and parts of Bosnia still consider Mladic a hero - the general who against all odds tried to defend ethnic Serbs in the Bosnian conflict. In the Bosnian city of Banja Luka, thousands of supporters protested his arrest Tuesday, in the biggest demonstration so far in the country.
Demonstrators chanted Mladic's name, and carried his picture alongside those of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, whom they consider their biggest allies.
Stojanovic reported from Belgrade, Serbia. Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, contributed to this report.
war crimes, serbia, national/world
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