Serbia sends Mladic to Hague war crimes tribunal

By Aleksandar Vasovic and Adam Tanner

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia extradited most-wanted war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic on Tuesday after he lost his final legal appeal, removing a nationalist icon whose years on the run hindered Serbian progress toward EU membership.

Serbia’s war crimes court rejected an appeal from his lawyer that poor health should stop the former general’s extradition to the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, where ex-Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic is already on trial.

“Ratko Mladic has been extradited,” Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic told reporters on Tuesday evening. “That means he is in the plane en route to The Hague tribunal.”

Mladic, 69, was indicted by the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia 15 years ago for genocide in the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

He was arrested on Thursday in a farmhouse in northern Serbia belonging to a cousin. His capture prompted at times violent protests by Serb nationalists in Serbia and Bosnia.

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.

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.

He was expected to arrive in Rotterdam in the Netherlands en route to The Hague at around 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. EDT), a local official said.

The Serbian court received the Mladic appeal on Tuesday morning after his cemetery visit and rejected it within hours.

During a prison visit on Monday, Mladic met his five-year old grandson, possibly for the first time, and his 10-year-old granddaughter.

Mladic’s lawyer and family argued Mladic was mentally unstable and too sick to be extradited to the tribunal. Yet the former general was able to elude justice for 16 years, a fact that in recent years held back Belgrade’s progress in achieving membership in the European Union as Brussels had insisted on his capture and transfer to the international war crimes court.

Mladic’s arrest also highlighted continued deep ethnic divisions in Bosnia, where he fought to create a separate Serb entity. As a result of the war, a Serb Republic exists as one of two halves under a weak central Bosnian government.

Around 10,000 Bosnian Serbs pledged support for their wartime commander in the Serb Republic capital Banja Luka, an affront to Muslims elsewhere in Bosnia who view the general as a brutal murderer.

Buses arrived from across the Serb Republic, many filled with his former soldiers bearing his photo.

“There are more Mladics in Serbia, they grow and will continue where he stopped,” Srdjan Nogo of the ultra-nationalist organization Srpske Dveri from Belgrade told the crowd.

Such sentiments alarmed Muslims in Bosnia.

“Night after night I shiver in fear that someone may come and force us leave the house and shoot at us,” said Emina Bajric, 72, a pensioner from Banja Luka.

“We have been through such an ordeal once and I am not sure if I could go through it again.”