Share this article

print logo

Mladic shows contempt as war crimes trial opens

Former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic confronted the accusations against him at the opening of his war crimes trial Wednesday with contemptuous gestures to the court and the victims who had come to see him face justice for atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Slowed by age and the hardships of 15 years on the run from the U.N. tribunal's indictment, Mladic still mustered a hint of his trademark swagger as he entered the courtroom in The Hague, Netherlands, giving a thumbs-up to the judges and mocking applause for those watching from a glass-walled gallery.

At one point, Mladic responded to a defiant gesture from a spectator by drawing a finger across his throat in a slitting gesture, prompting censure from Presiding Judge Alphons Orie for "inappropriate interactions" with those watching the proceedings.

In a videotaped opening statement watched by Balkan refugees around the world, lead prosecutor Dermot Groome laid out the case against Mladic, backed with chilling statements from witnesses recounting the horrors experienced two decades ago.

Broome backed the accusations with recordings from the 3 1/2 -year siege of Sarajevo, including a 1993 tape on which Mladic was heard boasting that "every time I go by Sarajevo, I kill someone in passing. I kick the hell out of the Turks," a disparaging reference to Bosnian Muslims.

"The world watched in disbelief that in neighborhoods and villages within Europe, a genocide appeared to be in progress," Groome told the court, detailing the brutal campaign of "ethnic cleansing" carried out by the army of the Republika Sprska under Mladic's command.

Muslim and Croat civilians "were targeted for no other reason than that they were of an ethnicity other than Serb; their land, their lives, their dignity attacked in a coordinated and carefully planned manner," Groome said.

Mladic, 70, faces 11 counts of genocide, murder, persecution, terrorism and hostage-taking, including the 1995 slayings of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica and the siege of the Bosnian capital that killed at least 10,000 people.

Survivors of the Bosnian bloodshed that cost at least 100,000 lives overall and left 2 million people refugees flocked to The Hague to cheer Mladic's belated arrival in the dock.

In another case, convicted war criminal and former Liberian President Charles Taylor said during his sentencing hearing Wednesday that he sympathizes with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and asked judges to render their sentence against him in a spirit of "reconciliation, not retribution."

In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and conscripting child soldiers.

Taylor is due to be sentenced May 30.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.