BELGRADE – Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic insists he was not responsible for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, his son said Sunday, as Serbia braced for protests against the ex-army chief’s arrest.
Police have stepped up security in Belgrade ahead of the protest called by ultra-nationalists, fearful of an outbreak of street violence.
After visiting Mladic on Sunday, his son Darko said his father insists he had nothing to do with the Srebrenica mass killings — the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II and one of the key charges he faces at a UN war crimes tribunal.
“He said that whatever was done in Srebrenica, he had nothing to do with it,” Darko Mladic said after visiting his father in a detention centre at Serbia’s war crimes court.
“He saved so many women, children and fighters… His order was first to evacuate the wounded, women and children and then fighters. Whoever did what behind his back, he had nothing to do with it.”
Mladic, 69, may be transferred in the next few days to the international tribunal in The Hague, where he has been indicted for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
“Mladic might come Monday or Tuesday. Due to international law, he will stand in front of a judge immediately,” said Mehmet Guney, acting president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), according to Turkey’s Anatolia news agency.
A fugitive for nearly 16 years, Mladic was arrested Thursday and the next day ruled fit to be transferred to the UN tribunal. His lawyer is to launch an appeal of that ruling on Monday.
In Serbia, however, Mladic is still considered a war hero by many, and the country’s ultra-nationalist Radical Party (SRS) and other far-right groups have called for protesters to gather from 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Sunday to rally against his arrest.
Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said the authorities would allow the protest to go ahead but they have stepped up security and would intervene if necessary.
“The police will not use force in advance … only if there is a drastic violation of public peace and order,” he said.
Organisers have insisted the rally will be peaceful and Mladic’s lawyer Milos Saljic said the former general is urging calm.
“He is appealing to people to calm down, there should be no bloodshed. He does not want to be a cause of unrest,” Saljic said.
Back in July 2008 after the arrest of Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic, thousands of ultra-nationalists staged a violent protest in Belgrade, leaving one dead.
Some 3,000 people, mostly Bosnian Serb former soldiers, also angrily protested on Sunday against Mladic’s arrest in his birthplace of Kalinovik, in southeastern Bosnia Hercegovina.
The ICTY’s Guney said Mladic would be sent to the court after medical, administrative and financial procedures are completed about his transfer.
The Turkish judge noted that the panel that will try Mladic is ready as he has appointed three justices: Christoph Fluegge of Germany, Dutchman Alphons Orie and Bakone Moloto of South Africa.
“The trial presumably would last one and a half or two years,” Guney said.
The ICTY indictment holds Mladic responsible for a number of atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and killed, and the 44-month siege of the city of Sarajevo, during which 10,000 were killed.
Serbia has also vowed to track down those who helped protect Mladic during his years on the run, amid questions over why it took so long for him to be captured.
Saljic and Mladic’s family have argued that he is too ill to be transferred to The Hague court, and in a rare interview on Sunday his wife Bosilijka said he had suffered three strokes.
“He told me and our son that he had a severe stroke in 2008 and that it was the third. Since then he has no feeling on the right side of his body,” Bosilijka Mladic said in the interview with the daily Vecernje Novosti.
After meeting his client on Sunday, Saljic said he was also not in a fit mental state.
“It was impossible to have a coherent conversation with him or to talk of his defence,” he said.
Darko Mladic said his father’s “fundamental human rights have been violated” and that an appeal would be made to the European Court of Human Rights.