Mladic's former right-hand man dies in UN jail

9th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

A Bosnian Serb general once dubbed the right-hand man of notorious army chief Ratko Mladic has died in jail where he had begun a life sentence for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, officials said Tuesday.

Zdravko Tolimir "passed away at 9pm" (2000 GMT) on Monday "while in the custody of the UN Detention Unit (UNDU)" in The Hague, officials from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) said.

"The medical officer was called immediately and Dutch authorities have commenced standard investigations as mandated under Dutch law," the ICTY added in a statement.

Tolimir, 67, had been sentenced to life in prison in 2012 for genocide and crimes against humanity committed "on a massive scale" during the 1990s Bosnian war -- including his role in Srebrenica.

Europe's worst massacre since World War II, some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica even though the enclave was supposed to be under UN protection.

Tolimir was found guilty for his role in the murders of Bosnian men from the enclave, as well as forcible deportations from the area.

Judges described the former general as Mladic's "eyes and ears" on the ground, particularly in the July 1995 massacre.

In April, the ICTY appeals chamber upheld Tolimir's life sentence as he listened calmly wearing a large wooden cross.

He died as he was awaiting transfer from the detention unit in The Hague to another country where he would have served out his term.

The UN-backed ICTY has now ordered a full inquiry to be conducted by former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda president, judge Vagn Joensen, and to be completed "as soon as is reasonably possible."

Previous reports said Tolimir, who was arrested in Bosnia in May 2007, was suffering from cancer.

- 'A patriot' -

His trial which started in July that year was interrupted several times because of his ill health.

Tolimir's wife Nada Tolimir told Serbia's Kurir newspaper that she learnt of his death late Monday.

"He was ill, but the idiots did not allow him to come here and get treatment at home. I was surprised by the news," the former general's wife was quoted as saying.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska, sent a letter of condolence to Tolimir's family regretting the death of a "patriot and high military officer who made a major contribution" during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

Dodik described his death as a "major loss for all Serbian people," Bosnia's Fena news agency reported.

Tolimir was one of the most senior Bosnian Serbs to have a verdict handed down by the UN war crimes court and one of a handful of defendants found guilty of genocide.

Mladic himself is on trial at The Hague facing charges including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including for Srebrenica.

Tolimir was not the first ICTY defendant to die in jail.

Ailing former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, blamed for the wars accompanying the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, died of natural causes in an ICTY prison cell at the age of 64 in March 2006, just weeks before the end of his long-running trial.

The trial, which began in February 2002, was frequently interrupted because of illness caused by Milosevic's high blood pressure and heart problems.

The president of a Bosnian Serb veterans' association, Milomir Savcic, said meanwhile that Tolimir had been "seriously ill. He certainly had no adequate health care and treatment."

© 2016 AFP

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