Profile 26 May 11

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

Merima Husejnovic

Ratko Mladic was born in the village of Bozinovici, near Kalinovik, on May 12, 1943, in the middle of the Second World War.

At 15, he “started his military career” by entering the Military and Industrial School in Zemun, near Belgrade, graduating from the Military Academy.  

At only 22 he became an officer in Skopje, Macedonia. He was the youngest member and commander of an automatic engineering unit in the Yugoslav National Army, JNA.  

In the spring of 1991, when the armed conflict started in Croatia, Mladic went to Knin, in northern Dalmatia, then the epicentre of the Serbian revolt against Croatian independence.

At first commander of the Ninth Corps of the JNA, he soon received the rank of major general.

Under Mladic’s command, JNA forces engaged in the war in Croatia on the side of the rebel Serbs from the beginning, trying out and testing the forced movements of civilian populations that would later become known as “ethnic cleansing”.

During a raid in Serbia, the police found Mladic’s personal war diaries, which contained important insights into his strategy.

In them, he referred to “moving populations”, as well as to plans to sacrifice the Croatian Serb statelet, the so-called Republika Srpska Krajina, for parts of Bosnia.

“I told them to draw the lines of the [future] borders and to move the population…” Mladic wrote in his diary.

After the war in Croatia wounded down at the end of 1991, Mladic was moved elsewhere.

On May 9, 1992, he was appointed commander of the Second Military District of the JNA, covering much of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Three days later, the parliament of the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina appointed Mladic as commander of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS.

In an interview with the Belgrade-based magazine NIN in February 1994, Mladic said he became a general "in troubled times of war".

“When I took over my position in the Second Military Region, I tasked myself with gathering people and forming the command and headquarters... I knew immediately that a big historic event was going to happen there,” Mladic said in the interview.

In April 1992, the city was attacked and placed under siege, which turned out to last for 1,425 days. Systematic shelling and sniper targeting of civilians started, accompanied by shortages of food, water and electricity.

“Shell Velusici and Pofalici because there are not many Serbs in those settlements,” Mladic ordered on May 28, 1992, incidentally mispronouncing the Sarajevo settlement of Velesici.

“And shell the part near Dobrovoljacka street, and up there around Humska street and up Djure Djakovica street,” he continued.

“Don’t let them sleep at all. Make them go insane,” he continued.

“Can you shell Bascarsija? Fire a salvo at Bascarsija. Keep the Presidency and Parliament buildings under direct fire. Shoot slowly, in intervals, until I order you to stop,” Mladic ordered on the same occasion.

That night, many buildings in central Sarajevo were set ablaze. More than a hundred wounded people were brought to the hospitals within hours.  

Those who stayed in the besieged city remember months spent living in fear, as people were killed queuing for water and bread, or running across bridges under sniper fire. Hospitals were shelled, along with museums and libraries.

Available data suggest that more than 13,000 Sarajevo residents died as a result of these activities, which lasted until the siege was finally broken in 1995.

More than half of this number died in 1992 alone. The number of indirect victims of the siege, who died of hunger or disease or who committed suicide out of desperation, has not been possible to establish.

Mladic was unrepentant. “I am just defending my people,” he said on many occasions during the war.

The military forces commanded by Mladic were under the supreme command of Radovan Karadzic, the then president of Republika Srpska, who “had the power to appoint, promote and dismiss military officers”, according to the Prosecution of the Hague Tribunal, which charges him with genocide and numerous other crimes.   

Addressing Karadzic, the only person to whom he was subordinate, Mladic said that he wants “our country, Republika Srpska, and the Serbian people to prosper”.

“I want your words, uttered at the last Assembly session, to be embedded and conveyed by these media to each single men in our country.

“I want us to stand by each other and overcome these evil times, go through the storm and make our dream of all Serbs living in one country come true,” Mladic said during the war.

Although he said he was “defending his people”, Mladic freely admitted that offensives were “the main method of his warfare style”.

“Attacking is my nature. This is acceptable to the Main Headquarters of Republika Srpska. My goal is simple – protection of the Serb territory and the people who have lived there for ages,” he said, shortly after he became commander of the Main Headquarters.

In July 1995, just a few months before the war ended in Bosnia, Mladic’s forces captured the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, which the United Nations had declared a UN “protected zone” two years earlier.

Mladic arrived in Srebrenica with a smile on his face, congratulating the soldiers who met him in the streets of the deserted town.  

Cameras recorded the General’s movements. Republika Srpska Television and the Serbian Television, the only TV stations present, reported on the “liberation” of the town, from which tens of thousands of people were then fleeing.

“Here we are in Serbian Srebrenica on July 11, 1995,” Mladic said. “On the eve of yet another big Serbian holy day, we are presenting this town to the Serbian people. Finally, the time has come to get even with the Turks for the first time since the uprising against Ottoman rule.”

He then ordered his soldiers: “Go ahead towards Potocari, Bratunac...don’t stop”.

What followed was the mass murder of several thousand men and boys, which subsequent indictments and verdicts passed down by international and local courts have classified as genocide.

Several thousands of women and their children fled the town for the UN Base in Potocari. At the same time, thousands of men tried to head for Tuzla through the woods.  

In the night between July 11 and 12, 1995 Mladic held three meetings in the “Fontana” hotel in Bratunac. The fate of the wretched people of Srebrenica was the subject of those meetings.

“You can either survive or disappear. In order for you to survive, I am asking all your men, who are armed, even if they committed crimes, and committed crimes against my people, to hand in their weapons to the VRS,” Mladic told representatives of Srebrenica, who attended one meeting with members of the Dutch UN Battalion.  

On July 12, Mladic arrived to Potocari, accompanied by a TV crew. The cameras filmed him distributing Toblerone chocolate bars to children who had not seen such luxuries for years, telling their parents not to be afraid because “nobody will do them any harm.

“All of you who want to stay can do so. All those who want to leave this territory are free to do so. We have secured sufficient number of buses and trucks for you,” he said.  

Mladic repeated the same message at a meadow in Sandici, in a hangar in Bratunac and at a stadium in Nova Kasaba, addressing captured men and boys who were surrounded by armed Serbian soldiers.  

Instead, those who were captured or who surrendered were shot dead. According to the Hague Tribunal Prosecution indictment of 2002, "more than 7,000 prisoners captured in the area around Srebrenica were summarily executed from 13 July 19 July 1995. The killings continued thereafter".

In late August 1995, the international community finally intervened militarily to end the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO bombed Serbian positions near Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia in order to force the Bosnian Serbs to the peace table. Operations lasted for more than 10 days.

“The bombs, which have fallen on our kids, have revealed the truth about the West and made the Serbs, who have not done so to date, start using their heads,” Mladic said.  “This war will last until their [the Western] kids come home in coffins.”

The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord on December 14, 1995 in Ohio, US. A short time later the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, issued a warrant against Mladic on the basis of two indictments filed in mid-1995.

“They would like to handcuff our generals and take them to The Hague, while their officers walk freely here and distribute posters and media material to children,” Mladic retorted. “I can only be tried by my people.”

In July 1996 an international warrant against Mladic was issued. After several years on the run, Mladic was arrested in Serbia on May 26, 2011 and extradited to The Hague five days later. 

Mladic's trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide is scheduled to begin before the ICTY on May 16, 2012.

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Srebrenica: Genocide Reconstructed

In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.

Ratko Mladic: The Force Behind the Srebrenica Killings

The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.

The Indictment Against Ratko Mladic

Indictments in 1995 and 2000, further amended in 2002 and 2010, charge the former commander of the Republika Srpska Army with genocide and other crimes.

Ratko Mladic: From Promising Officer to Bloodstained Warlord

When Mladic ordered his army to bomb the people of Sarajevo until they ‘go insane’, he revealed the murderous intentions that would culminate in the Srebrenica massacre.

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