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Mladic Doesn't Enter Plea At War Crimes Tribunal


Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander accused of genocide, has appeared for the first time before the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. It was a preliminary hearing. Mladic declined to enter a plea. NPR's Philip Reeves followed the proceedings.

PHILIP REEVES: Prosecutors say Mladic orchestrated the long and bloody siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. Clad in a light gray pinstriped suit, Mladic looked much frailer than the burly and confident general who once commanded Serbian forces. He says he's gravely ill. As the hearing began, Mladic seemed alert.

ALPHONS ORIE: Good morning to everyone in and around this courtroom.

REEVES: Alphons Orie, the Dutch judge presiding over the court, asked Mladic if he could follow the proceedings. Mladic said he could. The judge then read out the allegations against him, a litany of atrocities from the war over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

ORIE: From around the 11th of July in 1995 until the 1st of November 1995, Ratko Mladic participated in this joint criminal enterprise by killing the men and boys and forcibly removing the women, young children and some elderly men from Srebrenica.

REEVES: Judge Orie asked Mladic if he wanted to enter a plea or to exercise his right to wait for up to 30 days to do so. This was Mladic's reply.

RATKO MLADIC: (Through translator) I would like to receive what you've read out just now, the obnoxious charges leveled against me. I want to read this properly, to give it some proper thought, together with my lawyers. Because I need more than a month for these monstrous words, the ones that I've never heard before, those that were included in this indictment. I have never heard of any such thing, nor can I understand that it is that way.

REEVES: Mladic entered no plea. The court went into closed session to allow Mladic to discuss his health. When it reconvened, Mladic acknowledged the presence of journalists from around the world and made another address.

MLADIC: I defended my people and my country, not Radko Mladic. Now I am defending myself. I am defending Radko Mladic before you.

REEVES: Mladic was transferred to the Hague on Tuesday from Belgrade, following his arrest by Serb forces after 16 years in hiding. He said he'd been treated with fairness and dignity, but then made a confused complaint about the balaclava-clad security forces who'd handled him. He continued...

MLADIC: (Through translator) (Unintelligible) I can tell you, I defended my country. I, Radko Mladic, I did not kill Croats as Croats, and I'm not killing anyone either in Libya or in Africa. I will keep defending my country.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.