Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic has been placed in custody in The Hague to await trial for genocide and war crimes after almost 16 years on the run.
“We are very happy, we are very pleased that we have him in our custody,” International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) spokesperson Nerma Jelacic said shortly after Mladic’s arrival at a United Nations detention unit.
“He has been one of our longest-running fugitives.”
Television images showed a plane with “Republic of Serbia” on the side touch down at Rotterdam airport at 7.45pm local time on Tuesday and taxi to a heavily guarded hangar followed by two black jeeps.
At about 9.30 pm at The Hague prison, a helicopter landed and another one circled overhead as a convoy of four black vehicles brought Mladic to the prison, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.
Jelacic on Wednesday said the former military leader had been examined by doctors. “He did have a medical examination according to the procedures.”
Asked about the his first night behind bars, Jelacic said: “I won’t be making any statements about his personal well-being.”
The prosecution has charged Mladic (69) with genocide, persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts and cruel treatment for his alleged part in a plot to achieve the “elimination or permanent removal” of Muslims from large parts of Bosnia in pursuit of a “Greater Serbia”.
He is accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of about 8 000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II.
He is also charged over the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo from May 1992 in which 10 000 people died.
Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz is to hold a press conference at noon (10am GMT) on Wednesday, his office said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Serbian judges rejected Mladic’s appeal against a transfer to the UN-backed ICTY. Dismissing his complaints of ill health, they said he was fit to stand trial for alleged atrocities committed during the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed the news.
“This is an important moment for reconciliation in the region and for international justice,” she said in a statement late on Tuesday. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with those who suffered and lost loved ones during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Europe’s most wanted man was arrested in the village of Lazarevo in north-east Serbia on Thursday.
In The Hague, Mladic was to join behind bars wartime Bosnian Serb political chief Radovan Karadzic, currently on trial.
Mladic faces a life sentence if found guilty.
Mladic has declared through his son, Darko, that he had “nothing to do” with the Srebrenica massacre. — AFP