A Portrait of Ratko Mladic The Life of a Fugitive General
After years on the run, Ratko Mladic has been captured. The Bosnian Serb ex-general will be expected before the International Court of Justice on charges of brutal war crimes. But how did a keen military man become a hate-filled criminal?
Who is Ratko Mladic, the man who has finally been arrested and will now be turned over to the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague? Charges against him include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995.
The 68-year-old former general and Chief of Staff for the Bosnian Serb army is probably the world's most notorious living mass murderer. During the almost two-year siege of Sarajevo he is said to have instructed snipers to shoot at civilians. But his most gruesome alleged crime is helping to organize the Srebrenica massacre, when some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in an area under UN protection.
British politician David Owen called him a mass murderer; Serbian general Jovan Divjak said the word "human" did not apply to Mladic. The former US ambassador to Yugoslavia saw him as the Heinrich Himmler of his generation. For many Serbs he was undoubtedly a hero and one of the few Serbian leaders who didn't use the war for personal gain.
Dooming Sarajevo Residents to Death
He was born in March, 1942, in the village of Bozinovic, near Kalinovnik, some 50 kilometers south of Sarajevo. It was an idyllic region inhabited by poor farmers. A legend claimed that Hitler had been stationed nearby as a soldier, in a 19th-century ruin which the Austrians had used as a fort during World War I. Mladic's father Nedja was killed in 1945 by a member of the fascist Croatian Ustase, a group that sympathized with Hitler, but Mladic denied having anti-German feelings.
Former military comrades remember the young Mladic as a Bosnian "superman" who was good at swimming, diving, running, and marksmanship. As a staunch Communist, he achieved quick success in his Yugoslavian military career.
After Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Yugoslavian federal state in 1991, the fighting started. After a battle at Knin he was ordered to lead insurgent Serbs in the Croatian region of Krajina. When then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic needed someone to execute his war policies in Bosnia, he chose Mladic, who was 49 at the time. In 1992 he became Chief of Staff for the Bosnian Serb army.
Before he took his official position, he marked the residents of Sarajevo out for death. He wanted to smite the Bosnian metropolis and hand it to the Serbs as a trophy of war. The brutal general bombed his way from victory to victory. By 1994 he had taken some 70 percent of Bosnian territory for the Serbs.
Today the International War Tribunal has hundreds of documents and witness reports that are said to prove that Mladic received not only his pay, but also his orders from the Serbian capital, Belgrade. During the events in Srebrenica he was allegedly in constant contact with Milosevic and the Chief of Staff for the Yugoslavian army, Momcilo Perisic. The attack on the UN protected zone was planned by both military leaders at Milosevic's command, according to The Hague. During the operation Milosevic was constantly updated about its progress.
Conflicts with Karadzic
According to tribunal documents, Mladic was personally present for at least one of the several mass executions during the massacre at Srebrenica, which saw a total of 8,000 people killed. Other executions reportedly followed 15 minutes after he drove away.
On several occasions he'd threatened to bomb Srebrenica into rubble and ashes if the Muslim population failed to surrender their weapons. It was a demand that would never be met. When the UN announced plans to beef up the number of peacekeepers it had in the so-called "safe haven," Mladic made a call for swift action. In a television interview held shortly before the enclave was attacked, he said the time had come to avenge a centuries-long Muslim occupation.
From the early days of the war, Mladic had been fierce enemies with Radovan Karadzic. During the war, Karadzic lived in Pale, a town southeast of Sarajevo. But since July 2008, he's been held at The Hague while standing trial himself. The photos showing the two happily playing chess together were staged for the public benefit and meant to shield the public from the reality. During the war, Karadzic made several attempts to replace his chief military commander, but all of them failed because of support Mladic enjoyed among the other generals.
For his part, Mladic noticeably felt like he was surrounded by traitors. While he wanted to crush the enemy, the political leadership in Pale agreed to peace initiatives and cease-fires that left his army "in agony," as he put it.
Yet another thing put the two suspected war criminals at odds: As Col. Milan Milutinovic, Mladic's former head public relations officer, remembers it, it was hard for the army to accept Karadzic's "witch cult." He says that Karadzic "always brought the fortune teller 'Baba Stane,' from Bejiline, with him to the front. She had to make incantations on fields and trees before the fighting started. Entire areas were marked off with crosses to draw a Serbian border."
Milutinovic tells a story about how the sudden appearance of Croatian soldiers set a column of Serbian soldiers to flight. He says that, after the defeat, Karadzic attributed it to the fact that "this area had not been marked off by Serbian crosses."
Conflicts with Milosevic
With time, Mladic's military worries would increase. The areas controlled by Serbs in Bosnia eventually had borders roughly 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) long. It was getting more and more difficult to secure them -- they were short of weapons as well as soldiers. Young men fled from the Republika Srpska by boat over the Drina River to Serbia because they didn't want to become cannon fodder in an increasingly more senseless war.
There are conflicting accounts about Mladic's relationship with Milosevic toward the end of the war. Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, a military analyst who spent 25 years as an officer in the Yugoslavian army and often accompanied Mladic, claims that Milosevic had numerous conflicts with Mladic. In July 1994, he apparently even threatened to have him shot. One of these conversations was apparently recorded by Serbia's intelligence agency. In the tape, Milosevic is reportedly enraged at the general and orders him to come to Belgrade immediately. After a short time, Mladic says, "If you have something to say, you come here. But stop giving me instructions from your cabinet." And reportedly slams down the phone.
Mladic, in the end, had to be removed from his position by force. Even 11 months after the peace accord signed by Serbs, Croats and Bosnians in December 1995, Mladic refused to relinquish command of the military to Biljana Plavsic, who succeeded Karadzic as the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs. The conflict eventually led police officials to destroy the lines of communication between Mladic's headquarters in Han Pijesak and the military units scattered around the country.
Even so, Mladic continued to serve in the Serbian army in Belgrade. It wasn't until 2001 -- six years after the War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia laid its charges -- that he was finally forced to retire by Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's president at the time.
Wishing Death on His Pursuers
The international community wanted to force the surrender of Mladic using threats, financial sanctions, and delays in the normalization of relations with the EU. But there was no one serious in Belgrade to negotiate with. The Serbs seemed to look wherever Mladic was certain not to be. That, at least, is how former Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus describes it. An arrogant Mladic predicted in an interview with the magazine "NIN" in March 1996 that he would be "expensive" to catch. The warning applied not just to his pursuers, but to anyone privy to his whereabouts.
Officials in Serbia consistently tried to throw the international community off the general's trail using bait-and-switch maneuvers. Once they said he'd flown to Moscow. Serbian media later speculated that Mladic was in a position to demand 10 million as payment for his family in case he was handed over. But the Montenegrin paper monitor argued that he threatened, in case of arrest, to talk about Serbia's role in the Croatian and Bosnian wars. Then there was the suicide rumor: Mladic once claimed he always carried a poison pill. A onetime officer from his army also repeated what he said was a concrete command from his former boss: If Mladic ever found himself in a position where suicide would be impossible, his companions were to find him and finish him off.
So far, at least, things have worked out differently.