Media frenzy ahead of Mladic appearance

2nd June 2011, Comments 0 comments

International news crews swarmed into The Hague Thursday ahead of wartime Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic's long-awaited first appearance before a UN judge after 16 years on the run.

Satellite trucks jostled for space outside the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) where the man dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" will be asked to plead to genocide charges Friday.

As news crews descend on the city, the tribunal had to rent extra space at a conference centre across the road to handle the expected overflow of visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the ex-general in the dock.

Large screens will be erected and extra chairs put out for people to follow the hearing, with the 100-odd seats in the courtroom and even the ICTY lobby expected to be overrun, according to the court's press office.

For long Europe's most wanted man, Mladic, 69, was arrested in northeast Serbia last Thursday and extradited to The Netherlands on Tuesday.

During his first appearance, Mladic will be asked by a judge to identify himself and will be asked about his health and conditions of detention.

He can then opt to have the court read out the 62-page indictment against him, which lists 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities committed in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war that claimed 100,000 lives.

Mladic is accused of masterminding the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo from May 1992 in which 10,000 people died.

He will be asked Friday to plead to the charges against him, but may opt to delay this by 30 days. If by then he has not yet pled, the court will enter an automatic not-guilty plea on his behalf.

It was not clear on Thursday whether Mladic had appointed a lawyer or whether he would opt to conduct his own defence, as his former political head Radovan Karadzic has been doing since his own trial on similar charges opened in October 2009.

Mladic's family are not expected among the throngs at court Friday.

"The family will not go to The Hague in the next 15 days," a family lawyer Milos Saljic has told AFP, adding they would wait for the initial appearance to pass and then visit him "calmly" in The Hague.

© 2011 AFP

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