World

Disruptive Mladic tossed from UN court

A defiant Ratko Mladic plunged his Yugoslav war crimes tribunal arraignment into chaos, repeatedly shouting at judges, defying their orders and refusing to enter pleas to 11 charges before being thrown out of the hearing.

Not guilty pleas entered on his behalf by judges

Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic waves in the courtroom during his appearance at the UN's Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Monday. (Valerie Kuypers/Associated Press)

A defiant Ratko Mladic plunged his Yugoslav war crimes tribunal arraignment into chaos Monday, repeatedly shouting at judges, defying their orders and refusing to enter pleas to 11 charges before the presiding judge threw him out of the hearing at The Hague.

After a brief adjournment to have Mladic removed, presiding Judge Alphons Orie then resumed the hearing and formally entered not guilty pleas on Mladic's behalf, in line with court rules for suspects who refuse to plead.

Shortly before guards escorted Mladic from court, he shouted at Orie, "You want to impose my defence, what kind of a court are you?"

Mladic, 69, is accused of masterminding the worst Serb atrocities of Bosnia's 1992-95 war. He is accused of genocide as the top military official overseeing the 1995 killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, in Europe's worst mass killing since the Second World War.

Mladic was disruptive and argumentative from the outset Monday at only his second appearance before the United Nations court since being extradited by Serbia just over a month ago.

Defiant towards judge

He put on a cap and gestured to members of the public in open defiance of orders from Orie. Speaking out of turn, he told Orie he wanted to wear the cap because his head was cold.

Mladic had threatened to boycott the hearing because court officials have not yet appointed the Serbian and Russian lawyers he wants to represent him at his trial.

Orie told Mladic it was up to the court's registry, not judges, to approve the two attorneys.

When Orie asked Mladic whether he was ready to hear the charges, Mladic responded: "You can do whatever you want."

But when Orie began speaking, Mladic said, "No, no, no! Don't read it to me, not another word," and pulled off his earphones. After Orie warned him to be quiet or he would be removed, Mladic shot back: "Remove me."

After entering the pleas, Orie adjourned the hearing without setting a date for trial or scheduling another hearing. It is likely Mladic's lawyers will be approved by the registry after filing proper papers, and then judges can set a date for the next pretrial hearing.

Orie told court-appointed lawyer Aleksander Aleksic that if he is able to communicate with Mladic, he should inform him of his not guilty pleas and that he has the option of changing them at any time.

Survivors witness the theatrics

Some of Mladic's alleged victims said they were not surprised by his behaviour in court.

"He showed who he is and what he is like. He displayed no regret and doesn't want justice for the victims," said Hatidia Mehmedovic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, who travelled to the Netherlands to attend Monday's hearing.

Fadila Efendic, another survivor from Srebrenica, said Mladic's behaviour was like salt in her wounds.

"We are made to suffer, to mourn our children, we are forced to watch him make a circus in the court," she said. "This should be a short trial. He should be treated the way he treated our children, how he treated thousands of innocent people ... killed at his orders."

Hundreds of people gathered in the main square of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, to watch a live broadcast of the hearing, cheering and shouting, "The monster is gone," as Mladic was escorted from the courtroom.

At his first hearing in June, Mladic enraged war survivors in the public gallery by looking at them and drawing his finger across his throat.

There are, however, some people that remain loyal to Mladic.

In Pale, a mountain village that was a Bosnian Serb stronghold during the war, veteran fighters defended him.

"My commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, is a Serb hero," said Novica Kapuran. "I think this is a shame, a shame on Judge Orie, on [The] Hague tribunal."

Pushing forward despite disruptions

Defiant outbursts are not new at the tribunal.

Former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and other high ranking suspects tried to use their trials to discredit the court and promote nationalist ideologies. Milosevic died of a heart attack in 2006 before a verdict could be reached in his case.

But Orie is determined to keep Mladic's trial on track.

Legal expert Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, said Orie will try to give victims a sense of justice by reining in Mladic's antics, while at the same time ensuring his rights are protected.

"Orie will not permit Mladic to take over these court proceedings, and hopefully in preventing Mladic from doing so, the court will be able to provide witnesses a sense of justice, but it's difficult," Ellis said.

Belgrade attorney Milos Saljic — one of the lawyers requested by Mladic — said the courtroom fireworks demonstrated the man is not mentally fit to stand trial.

"Let them now see for themselves his behaviour and let them decide accordingly," Saljic told The Associated Press in Belgrade.

Saljic has said Mladic is not physically fit for the rigours of a long trial after suffering two strokes during nearly 16 years on the run as one of Europe's most-wanted fugitives.

Saljic added that he does not believe he could represent Mladic at the UN court because he does not speak English.

If convicted, Mladic could face a sentence of up to life in prison.

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