Mladic to face genocide charges within days

Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, extradited to the Netherlands from Serbia Tuesday...

A man waves a flag with a picture of Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic during a demonstration in front of Serbian Parliament on 29 May 2011 in Belgrade. Picture: AFP

Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, extradited to the Netherlands from Serbia Tuesday after 16 years on the run, will face genocide charges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal within days.

The 69-year-old former general was taken to a detention centre outside The Hague from Rotterdam airport Tuesday evening. His first court appearance could take place on Wednesday at the earliest but is considered more likely on Thursday or Friday.

Mladic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 16 years ago over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, close to the border with Serbia, during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The fugitive was arrested Thursday at a farmhouse in northern Serbia belonging to a cousin, triggering protests by Serb nationalists in Serbia and Bosnia.

But his swift extradition will smooth Serbia's progress towards candidacy for European Union membership while also serving as an important warning to others who have been indicted on similar charges -- such as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi and Sudan's Omar Al Bashir.

Mladic's lawyer and family argued that Mladic was mentally unstable and too sick to be extradited to the tribunal -- a tactic that has been used by others facing the war crimes court and tribunals.

But Tuesday, Serbia's war crimes court rejected an appeal from Mladic's lawyer that poor health should stop the extradition to The Hague, and within hours, Mladic was on a plane to the Netherlands where former Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial. Bosnia's ambassador in the Netherlands said she had met Mladic and he was in good health.

"He looked quite good, in a good health condition, focussed and rational, he definitely understood everything that was said to him," Ambassador Miranda Sidran-Kamisalic told the television of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation.

Mladic's last day in Serbia, where he spent most of his fugitive years, began with a police-escorted visit to the Belgrade grave of his daughter Ana, who committed suicide in 1994. During a prison visit Monday, Mladic met his five-year-old grandson, possibly for the first time, and his 10-year-old granddaughter.

Mladic's wife and son paid a final visit to the prison before he was dispatched to the Belgrade airport with special police wearing balaclava masks, bulletproof vests and automatic rifles guarding the convoy of Land Rover vehicles.

Mladic's arrest also highlighted continued deep ethnic divisions in Bosnia, where he fought to create a separate Serb entity with the crucial backing of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in his U.N. tribunal cell in 2006. As a result of the war, Bosnia is made up of a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation under a weak central Bosnian government.

According to an opinion poll published on May 15, before he was caught, 51 percent of Serbian citizens said they were against extraditing Mladic, while 34 percent said they were in favour of his arrest. And in the same poll, 78 percent of Serbs said they would not reveal Mladic's whereabouts in return for the 10 million euro reward offered by the government.