Mladic blasts genocide court as 'child of NATO'

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Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic said Wednesday he had been "pushed into war" and dismissed a UN court as a "child of western powers" in a dramatic end to his appeal against his conviction for genocide.

In a rambling speech that dug up centuries of historic grievances, the 78-year-old Mladic said he remained a "target of the NATO alliance" and accused prosecutors in The Hague of "showering me with satanic, snaky, devilish words".

Mladic is appealing his 2017 life sentence for genocide for overseeing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and for war crimes and crimes against humanity in general during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

The former general was found guilty of orchestrating a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" to drive Muslims and Bosnians out of key areas to create a Greater Serbia as Yugoslavia tore itself apart after the fall of communism.

"I am not a saint, madam judge, I am a simple man. Fate put me in a position to defend my country," said Mladic, who rose to his feet to speak from behind a plexiglass screen installed because of coronavirus restrictions.

"I was and still am a target of the NATO alliance, and please don't take offence if I say that this tribunal, of which I have a very, very low opinion, is a child of the western powers," he added.

"It is no use trying to wash this child of the NATO alliance clean." 

Mladic said that since the start of the conflict in Bosnia "I have been pushed into war, and for every minute of that war I have something to say, not for my own sake, but in the name of the people". 

Angered when the judge cut him off after his allotted 10 minutes instead of giving him half an hour as he had requested, Mladic muttered: "This indictment has gone down the drain."

Judges will give their decision at a later date.

- 'Srebrenica was Mladic's operation' -

The two-day appeal hearing had been delayed several times after Mladic -- dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" -- needed surgery to remove a polyp, and then because of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Defence lawyers unsuccessfully tried to get it postponed again on health grounds and warned ahead of his speech that they had "reasonable suspicions as to his capacity".

Prosecutors had earlier urged the judges at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals in The Hague to uphold the judgement of the now-closed UN tribunal that convicted him.

"Mladic was in charge of the Srebrenica operation, Srebrenica was Mladic's operation. And the chamber was right to conclude that he was responsible for these crimes," prosecution lawyer Laurel Baig told the court.

"He used the forces under his command to execute thousands of men and boys," she added, describing the slaughter as being on "a scale not seen on European soil since the Second World War".

Lawyers for Mladic said he was away from Srebrenica by the time the killings began and must be cleared of genocide.

"Mr Mladic is not a villain," defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic said, blaming the murders on "rogue revenge-seekers" among Bosnian Serb troops.

The Srebrenica massacre was the bloodiest single episode from the Bosnian war. In all about 100,000 people were killed and 2.2 million displaced during the conflict.

Mladic was captured in 2011 after years on the run, and convicted following a three-year trial.

The prosecution are also appealing, seeking to overturn Mladic's acquittal on wider genocide charges.

Mladic was the military face of a trio led on the political side by ex-Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

Milosevic died of a heart attack in his cell in The Hague in 2006 before his trial had finished, while Karadzic is serving a life sentence for genocide in Srebrenica and other atrocities.

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