26 May 2011

Meeting Mladic: Alex Thomson’s 1995 encounter

Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson talks to General Ratko Mladic in September 1995, where he denies Bosnian-Serb forces massacred civilians in Sarajevo and Srebrenica.

On a mountain plain in eastern Bosnia 16 years ago a military escort led Alex Thomson to the rendezvous in a deserted cafe which Channel 4 News was not allowed to film.

Inside was the Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic. He was already wanted for war crimes outside Bosnia and Serbia, but within its borders still lionised as its military saviour.

Two months before the interview in July 1995 8000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica. The Siege of Sarajevo was still ongoing, by the time it ended in February 1996 10 000 people had been killed.

Alex Thomson: up close and personal with General Mladic
Many days in the life of a roving reporter begin early, but that day started earlier than most. There was a knock at the door around 3am and our translator said I had to get up. The interview was on, it was happening -and happening now.
Read more: Up close and personal with General Mladic
graffiti in serbia (reuters)

On July 24, 1995, Mladic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes relating to the Siege of Sarajevo.

These charges were expanded on November 16, 1995 to include charges of genocide and war crimes in Srebrenica.

Alex Thomson asked him why he refused to pull back all his heavy weapons from Sarajevo as the UN demanded, General Mladic said that ‘was unfair and unrealistic.’

“It’s not logical to leave our people, about 120 000 Serbs unprotected in Sarajevo. In and around Sarajevo there are 55 000 armed Muslims and Croats” Mladic said.

Not only did Mladic deny war crimes, he accused NATO of indiscriminately bombing civilian areas.

“I am surprised by the brutality of the NATO forces and the Rapid Reaction force because the crime they have committed against Serbian people in the four day attack on different targets in the Republika Srpsko has never been equalled, even during the Second World War. “

But it was on Srebrenica that the General was perhaps most defiant, saying that the incident “happened in front of the eyes of the international audience,” but he did not explicitly deny the massacre happened during the interview.

“They can blame me as much as they like. That’s their right. But what the world is supposed to accept is the truth,”

“I am a man of my people and I together with my people fight for our ancient homeland- to defend them not only from the Muslim-Croat Federation and its supporters, but in this case also from NATO- backed by Rapid Reaction forces, and unfortunately from some individual members of UNPROFOR,” he continued.

“They are supposed to be here as forces of peace and not of war as they have become,” Mladic added.

As he left a still defiant Mladic, told Alex Thomson the Americans and Nato can bomb all they like, but he said “we’re like the Vietenamese, if any Nato or UN infantry arrive, we’ll send them back in body bags.”