War

Mladic may delay plea to war crimes tribunal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 02, 2011 2:31 PM
Mladic may delay plea to war crimes tribunal

By Ivana Sekularac

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Ratko Mladic is in a prison hospital at The Hague but will go before the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia as scheduled on Friday to face charges of genocide, his court-appointed lawyer said on Thursday.

Aleksandar Aleksic, a prominent Belgrade lawyer appointed by the tribunal on Thursday to represent the 69-year-old former Bosnia Serb Army commander, said he had met his client in a hospital room set aside for Hague defendants.

He told Reuters the health of the man who is now the tribunal's biggest case had deteriorated because of long years of neglect while a fugitive from justice.

"Ratko Mladic is in the prison hospital. He has not had proper health care for years and his condition is not good," Aleksic said.

As reported in Serbian media following his capture last Thursday, Mladic has partially lost the use of one hand due to a stroke suffered years ago.

But Alexsic said he was mentally capable and responsive.

He is due to face the tribunal on Friday morning to answer it gravest charge, that of genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim males and for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995 in which some 12,000 were killed.

"He will be transferred to the detention unit tomorrow. He is in a prison hospital, which has two rooms dedicated to U.N. detainees," Aleksic said.

He has a room to himself with a small outdoor yard where he can walk and has been making phone calls to his family, he said.

"I am going to ask tomorrow that he be given additional medical tests," Aleksic added. "I still have not received his medical records from Belgrade."

Mladic will be given an opportunity at his initial hearing on Friday to talk in public about his health and about conditions in detention, the lawyer said.

ADJOURNMENT LIKELY

Serbian media reports say he is unlikely to enter a plea on Friday. Under the rules of the war crimes tribunal, he can defer that step for 30 days, a court spokeswoman confirmed.

The general was arrested in a Serb village nearly 16 years after his indictment. Most of that time he managed to live discreetly but safely in Belgrade, relying on loyal supporters who consider him a hero of the Bosnian war.

But as pressure mounted on Serbia to arrest and extradite him, or watch its bid for European Union membership wither, Mladic's network of support apparently dwindled and he was forced to go ever deeper underground to avoid capture.

He is in detention in the same facility as his political alter-ego, the wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who was the tribunal's last big catch in 2008 and who has been on trial since October 2009.

Karadzic also began the legal process by deferring his plea to the tribunal judges for 30 days.

A Belgrade-based lawyer who represented Mladic for the week following his arrest, but failed to prevent extradition on grounds of ill health, said on Thursday that the general was treated for cancer in 2009.

Milos Saljic told Reuters he had "a medical report showing Mladic has received surgery and chemotherapy to treat him from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2009" and had sent it to the tribunal.

Serb Justice Minister Snezana Malovic and Serbian deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric dismissed the cancer claim.

In The Hague, a tribunal spokeswoman repeated the response of senior officials on Wednesday to questions about Mladic's health: the court does not comment on the health issues of defendants unless they expressly raise the issue.

Senior tribunal officials and diplomats in The Hague who saw Mladic on his arrival on Tuesday evening said he was a little unsure on the aircraft steps at first, but then proved to be alert, talkative and attentive. Court registrar John Hocking on Wednesday appeared to contradict claims that Mladic was mentally unfit.

"He was extremely cooperative. He made no comment on the charges against him. He asked a lot about procedures," Hocking said. "He was really paying attention and listening to the information we provided. We had good communication."

Lawyers for Mladic and Karadzic say the two defendants are likely to meet soon, to discuss a possibility that their cases may be joined, at their own request or that of prosecutors.

The International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, set up in 1993, expects to wind up by 2014. It has been criticized for lengthy procedures and is likely to avoid any move that would complicate completion of its two biggest remaining cases.

A career soldier, Mladic was branded "the butcher of the Balkans" in the late 1990s after his campaign in the Bosnia war to seize territory for Serbs following the break up of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federation of six republics.

Serb nationalists believe Mladic simply defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.

Hague chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz on Wednesday said Mladic had used his power to commit atrocities that tore a nation apart and destroyed communities.

His capture had come "very late but not too late" for justice to be done, Brammertz said.

(Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade)

(Writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Michael Roddy)