Published on 3 Jun 2011 Sections

Waiting for Mladic, 16 years on

Chief Correspondent

“Today is not finally about Ratko Mladic at all – but those dignified women with their poster outside, who have lost so much.”

It is a hot June day in The Hague. The kind of weather people remember. People like the four women from Srebrenica gathered in front of the cameras outside the front door of the court.

They cannot forget the blazing heat of the Drina Valley in high summer, sixteen years ago, in central Bosnia.

The hunger, the thirst, the terror that said – go out of Srebrenica. Go to Potocari. Get to the factory there where the UN soldiers are. You will be OK there.

One of their t-shirts reads: “It is our fault that we are Moslems”.

Sixteen years on, they carry a poster of General Ratko Mladic. “Mass murderer”, it says.

The General – an innocent man unless proven otherwise – nowhere to be seen of course. At this early hour he remains at the prison hospital, prior to appearing here to face 11 charges of crimes against humanity, including genocide.

Crimes he is alleged to have ordered over several days near that factory where the Dutch UN soldiers were based.

Yes – Dutch. Around 400 of them. Outgunned, outnumbered, outflanked – and frankly unable to believe the level of violence that would be unleashed – this trial opens hugely painful memories for the Dutch nation.

Shame, guilt – in some cases suicide by the young soldiers. It’s all here for Holland. But in truth they were sold down the river by the UN, its rules of engagement, the whole half-hearted mess of the UN “protection force” in Bosnia.

Be in no doubt – the British army would have been humiliated in just the same way.

Inside, I sit in the lobby, as yet excluded from court itself. I wonder at how the man I met 16 years ago has aged. Enfeebled by cancer? A stroke? Who knows the truth of it.

But indisputably a shell, a shadow of the stocky, bear-like tanned soldier with those piercing blue eyes, who hugged me in the Bosnian mountains all those years ago.

Even then he was on the run. Now the running is over.

But if it is to mean anything, today is not finally about Ratko Mladic at all – but those dignified women with their poster outside, who have lost so much.

Follow the latest updates from @alextomo at the Hague.