(photo credit: REUTERS)
THE HAGUE - Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic faced the UN war crimes tribunal on Friday as a proud general who never lost a battle, declining to plead guilty and calling charges against him "monstrous."
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"I defended my people, my country ... now I am defending myself," a defiant Mladic told the court. "I just have to say that I want to live to see that I am a free man."
He began his first appearance before the court wearing a military forage cap and offering a brief salute. As expected he declined to enter a plea immediately and the court set a date of July 4 for his next hearing.
Mladic told Judge Alphons Orie he was gravely ill and "in a poor state" and did not want to hear "a single letter or word of that indictment" read out to him.
He shook his head in denial as Orie, reading a summary, described the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 of which he is accused.
Once a burly and intimidating figure on the battlefield, Mladic appeared older than his 69 years. His mouth seemed to droop slightly at one corner and his words were slightly slurred, the possible result of a stroke.
Mladic is also charged with crimes against humanity for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995 in which some 12,000 people were killed.
Orie cited a charge that Bosnian Serb forces carried out a sustained
campaign of "sniping and shelling to kill, maim, wound and terrorize"
the people of the Bosnian capital.
Mladic, dressed in a gray striped suit with a gray shirt and sober black
checked tie, frequently wiped his cheeks, stroked his chin and placed
his hand on his forehead, listening intently to the judge, occasionally
nodding or shaking his finger.
The former Serbian commander was arrested last week in a Serbian village
and extradited by Serbia on Tuesday, to become the tribunal's biggest
case. His capture came nearly 16 years after The Hague issued its
indictment against him.