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Defiant Mladic sets stage for contentious war crimes trial

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“For Serbia to completely turn the corner, to learn the lessons of the past, the tribunal has to discredit Mladic in a trial,” says war crimes expert Michael Scharf, a former US State Department legal official who regards Mladic’s trial as the most important so far for the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), set up in 1993.

“Mladic is a hero in Serbia. He is seen as a military hero. For Mladic to be proved guilty, for history, for Serbia, that is what will rehabilitate Serbia and help it truly join Europe. This case has implications that go far past [former Serbian president Slobodan] Milosevic and [Bosnian Serb president Radovan] Karadzic.”

Mr. Milosevic, who died at The Hague in 2005, is seen as the mastermind of the “Greater Serbia” project of ethnic cleansing at the heart of the Balkan crisis that attempted to destroy and remove non-Serbs from territories in Croatia and Bosnia. Mr. Karadzic, now on trial, was the flamboyant articulator of a then-resurgent Serbian nationalism that described that nation and its people as more deserving than others.

Mladic said he was not appearing as “Ratko Mladic” but as a defender of the Serbian people, and said he would rather “be killed by a policemen here or in the United States… . I defended my country, and I have not killed anyone in Libya” or anywhere else.

“If that is defending your country, I want nothing to do with it,” commented British Col. Robert Stewart, a former UN commander in Bosnia during the early 1990s, about Mladic’s views, to the BBC.

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