3 Jun 2011

Mladic rejects ‘obnoxious’ war crimes charges

Chief Correspondent

Appearing at The Hague for the first time, General Mladic dismisses the war crimes charges against him as “obnoxious” and claims “I just defended my people and my country”.

As he arrived in court wearing his ever-present baseball cap, Ratko Mladic saluted a public gallery packed with journalists and diplomats before turning to the presiding justices and saluting them.

Asked to identify himself he responded “General Ratko Mladic“, keen to assert his military prefix

Following the indictment summary, Mladic went on to contest fiercely the crimes he is alleged to have committed.

Ratko Mladic during his first court appearance (Reuters)

Addressing one of the three presiding judges, he said: “Mr Orie .. I would like to receive what you read out against me – these obnoxious charges against me, I want to read these properly.”

He said he needed far more than a month to analyse “these monstrous words” and claimed he had never heard some of the charges in the indictment, nor understood them.

Justice Orie said there was no good cause to deviate from the 30 days and that the court-appointed month was long enough to decide on his plea.

After a 10-minute break requested by the defence, General Mladic applauded the announcement that there would be no public discussion of his health in court. TV streams were ended and the sound to public galleries cut off.

Towards the end of proceedings, the live stream returned and General Mladic made another statement of intent for future proceedings.

“Mr Orie, if you want the proceedings to proceed as they should, I just have to say that I want to live to see that I am a free man and such that I am, I am defending my country and people, not Ratko Mladic.”

Justice Orie told General Mladic this was not the case and that he should realise he faces the accusations as an individual.

A throat-slitting gesture at the general

The ushers in the court had a difficult time keeping a group of women from Srebrenica quiet during the latter stages of this hearing, writes Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson.

Outside, Zumra Sahomerovic, who lost her husband at Srebrenica, said it made her angry. Angry at general Mladic's "arrogance", as she put it. Angry too that the world had done nothing, she said, to apprehend him in 16 years.

At one point, one of the women made a throat-slitting gesture at the general. Through the pane of glass dividing the public gallery from the court, General Mladic smiled back.

Predictably, the general had most to say about his health, though we could see him but not hear him. We saw a thumbs-up gesture and a right arm which he can clearly use, as well as most of his fingers.

The arm and hand, his lawyer says, have been affected by a stroke.

At the end, the general addressed the world's media, saying to them precisely what he said to me when I met him 16 years ago: "I just defended my people and my country."

But there was a curious comment when he talked about the business of murder. He said: "I didn't kill Bosnian Croats because they were Croats."

Read Alex Thomson on the World News blog. See also Meeting with Mladic in 1995.