Mladic verdict looms as West raps Serbia's stance on war crimes

Convicted war criminal lauded as he starts teaching cadets in Belgrade

Former Bosnian Serb general  Ratko Mladic at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 2011.  Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 2011. Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

 

Lawyers for former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic have asked a United Nations tribunal to postpone its ruling in his genocide trial, as the court’s top judge and western powers criticised Serbia’s attitude towards its war criminals.

The tribunal in The Hague plans to deliver a verdict on November 22nd on Gen Mladic’s alleged responsibility for the murder of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995 and for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, which began with the outbreak of the Bosnian war in 1992 and claimed about 10,000 lives.

The lawyers want Serbian doctors to examine Gen Mladic (74) before the verdict is delivered, and earlier this month the Belgrade government offered its guarantee that he would return to The Hague if given temporary medical release.

The request is unlikely to be granted by the court, which rejected a recent plea for Gen Mladic to be allowed to go to Russia for treatment, saying that he was receiving adequate care in the Netherlands and might flee if allowed to leave.

The commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-5 Bosnian war, Gen Mladic had two strokes during 16 years as a fugitive from international justice, when he enjoyed the protection of loyalists in the security services before finally being arrested at a cousin’s house in a village in rural Serbia in May 2011.

The UN court – which Belgrade accuses of bias against Serbs – is also under pressure to wrap up arguably its most important case before it closes at the end of this year.

Ambiguous approach

The court’s senior judge Carmel Agius and its chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz met top officials in Serbia on Wednesday and Thursday, amid concern over the country’s deeply ambiguous approach to its wartime history of the 1990s.

Serbian general Vladimir Lazarevic recently started teaching at Belgrade’s military academy, two years after completing a jail sentence handed down by the UN court for committing war crimes during the 1998-9 Kosovo conflict.

Gen Lazarevic is expected to be joined in his teaching role by at least two other Serbian officers who led troops in a war that claimed the lives of about 10,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians and forced about 1 million to flee their homes.

Serbian defence minister Aleksandar Vulin said that giving such jobs to officers was a way to “right the injustices that these men were subjected to in the past”.

“The role models for the cadets should be Serbian generals, in particular those who have proven themselves in the toughest of times,” he added.

Judge Agius called the appointment of Gen Lazarevic “unacceptable”, echoing a European Union spokeswoman who said it “goes exactly against (the) principles” expected of Serbia as a candidate to join the bloc. The US envoy to Belgrade also criticised the move.