Top Serbian fugitive, General Ratko Mladic, has appeared before Serbia’s war crimes court in Belgrade after being arrested early Thursday after more than a decade on the run.
Mladic, taken into custody in a northern Serbian village, is wanted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague for war crimes, including genocide, committed against non-Serbs during the Bosnian conflict of the early 1990s.
The Serbian court will determine if all conditions for Mladic’s extradition to The Hague are fulfilled.Â Serbian officials say the process will take about seven days.
His lawyer, Milos Saljic, told the judges that Mladic does not recognize the international tribunal and that he is physically and mentally unable to undergo the investigation.
Earlier in the day, Serbian President Boris Tadic announced that Mladic was arrested on Serbian soil.Â He congratulated special forces that captured Mladic after 16 years in hiding and said Mladic’s capture has closed a hard period in Serbia’s history.Â Delivering Mladic and another fugitive, Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic, is a key condition in Belgrade’s bid to become a candidate for European Union membership.
Congratulations began pouring into Serbia from around the world, including neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.
But Mladic’s supporters staged protests in several places.Â Two people were reported injured in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad during a clash between police and protesters.Â Police in the capital, Belgrade, have stepped up security.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the arrest marks a “historic day for international justice.”
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, welcomed the action as “tremendous news.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the arrest of Mladic as “very good news” and called it a step toward Serbia joining the EU.
U.S. President Barack Obama also praised the development, saying Mladic will now have to answer to his victims and the world in court.Â Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Mladic’s arrest serves as a statement to those around the world who would break the law and target innocent civilians that they will not escape judgment.Â Both expressed hope that Mladic will soon be delivered to the international war crimes tribunal.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called the capture an “important step forward for Serbia and for international justice,” while NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the arrest “finally offers a chance for justice to be done.”
Croatian President Ivo Josipovic said the capture of Mladic is crucial for the international reputation of Serbia.
Bosnia’s organization of families of war victims expressed “relief” after 16 years of waiting.
The U.N. tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia indicted Mladic in 1995 for atrocities he allegedly carried out or ordered during the 43-month siege of the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, and for the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys near the city of Srebrenica.
The capture comes a week after the chief prosecutor for the U.N. war crimes tribunal, Serge Brammertz, criticized Serbia for not doing enough to capture Mladic or Hadzic.
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