x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Searching for answers when 'sly deceiver' Mladic stands trial

The UN war crimes tribunal of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general, begins at The Hague today.

Bosnian Muslim women mourn at the Srebrenica Memorial Cemetary in 2011. In 1995, the UN-protected enclave fell to Bosnian Serb troops, where alleged war crimes took place.
Bosnian Muslim women mourn at the Srebrenica Memorial Cemetary in 2011. In 1995, the UN-protected enclave fell to Bosnian Serb troops, where alleged war crimes took place.

SARAJEVO // She remembers Ratko Mladic looking straight into her eyes and promising to spare the other children. A soldier had just killed a 3-year-old child because it was crying.

She remembers, too, the arrogance as he barked murderous orders to his troops that showed his promise to be a lie.

For Munira Subasic, these are the two sides of the Bosnian Serb general who goes on trial today on genocide charges: the sly deceiver and the ranting bully.

Now Mrs Subasic wants to see the man who called himself "the Serbian God" try to defend himself as he faces the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Gen Mladic stands accused of commanding Bosnian Serb forces in Europe's worst massacre since the Second World War, including the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslims in the northern enclave of Srebrenica and other atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Mrs Subasic said she will be in the courtroom to witness this.

She was in Srebrenica, in July 1995, when the eastern Bosnian town was overrun by Gen Mladic's forces. Along with about 40,000 other residents, Mrs Subasic fled to the UN peacekeepers' compound outside the town seeking their protection. But Gen Mladic shouted threats at the Dutch base commander, then ordered that men be separated from women.

"Surrender your weapons and I will guarantee you life," he told the Bosnian Muslim men and boys, some as young as 11. "You can survive or you can disappear."

But it was those who obeyed who disappeared.

Mrs Subasic watched as Bosniak men boarded buses for the last time. She saw the Serb soldier kill the baby.

"Even God has let us down," she said she thought at the time.

Desperate, she approached Gen Mladic and begged him to spare the children.

All along, she said, "he behaved as the most powerful man in the world, awarding death sentences and life at leisure".

In the Serb town of Lazarevo, where Gen Mladic was captured last year, attitudes are starkly different.

The village, populated mostly by Bosnian Serbs, reacted with fury to his arrest, chanting and blocking journalists from the house where the raid took place. Villagers want to rename their village Mladicevo in honour of their hero.

"My brother has a big picture of Mladic in his home," said an elderly man who identified himself only as Bora. "Every time I go in, I kiss that picture as if he were my father."

The Bosnian Serb warlord was captured in the dilapidated red-roofed house of his cousin Branislav Mladic.

"If only I had known the two men were all alone in there," neighbour Klara Zoric said of Mladic's days in hiding. "I would have taken them some roast meat or pie to eat."

Throughout the war that claimed about 100,000 lives and kept 2.2 million homeless, Gen Mladic was filmed as he issued orders and celebrated victories. Footage shows him giving sweets to children as his troops were taking their fathers away for execution.

In another video he is seen threatening the Dutch UN commander, Thom Karremans.

That is the Gen Mladic that Mrs Subasic had in her head while he hid from international justice. But when Serbian authorities arrested him in May last year, he looked frail and old. She was convinced he was faking illness and memory loss.

Mrs Subasic was in the audience last year when Gen Mladic first appeared in the court to enter his plea. Even then he tried run the show.

"No, no, no, I will not listen to this nonsense," he growled.

Judge Alphons Orie ordered him out of the courtroom. For the first time, the general was not in charge.

Mrs Subasic is convinced Gen Mladic will deny the crimes but still hopes to learn answers to the questions that have haunted her.

Why is her husband Hilmo dead? Why is she no longer managing the local shopping mall?

Above all, why is she still looking for the body of her son Nermin? By now she should have danced at his wedding and played with his children.

"Instead, for the past 17 years I am going from one mass grave to another trying to find at least one bone."