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World

Former Military Commander Of Bosnian Serbs Sentenced To Life Imprisonment

ELISE HU, HOST:

It must have seemed at times that justice would never come for many victims of the Bosnian War in the 1990s. The ethnic conflict was horrific between Serbs, Croats and Muslims. It involved some of the worst incidents of genocide and crimes against humanity seen in Europe since the end of World War II.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today an international court in The Hague found one of the architects of that horror guilty. General Ratko Mladic will spend the rest of his life in prison. In a moment, we'll hear from a Bosnian journalist about the lasting effects of his crimes.

HU: First, Teri Schultz reports on the climax of a trial that lasted more than five and a half years.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: As the presiding judge at the U.N. tribunal on the former Yugoslavia read the long list of atrocities attributed to Mladic and his Bosnian Serb forces, the man known as the butcher of Bosnia said he felt ill. His defense team said his blood pressure was too high and demanded a suspension of the proceedings. When he court refused, the former military commander became enraged, shouting at the judges that they were liars and idiots.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RATKO MLADIC: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Mr. Mladic, if you...

MLADIC: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHULTZ: Ejected from the court, Mladic had to watch from another room as Judge Alfons Ori recounted the basis for the convictions, among them the persecution, deportation and attempts to exterminate Bosnian Muslims, including genocide in the town of Srebrenica where more than 7,000 men and boys were killed. Some of the victims were as young as 12, Judge Ori noted - others older than 60.

ALFONS ORI: Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution.

SCHULTZ: After speaking with the defense team, Mladic's son, Darko, said they'll appeal. He portrayed his father as the protector of Bosnian Serbs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARKO MLADIC: They are trying to criminalize a legal endeavor of Serbian people in times of a civil war to protect itself.

SCHULTZ: Kelima Dautovic and her family were among the Bosnian Muslims rounded up and put in concentration camps. Mladic was acquitted of committing genocide in her hometown of Prijedor. She feels cheated.

KELIMA DAUTOVIC: Our part of the town, you know, where 98 percent are Muslim - completely destroyed back to ashes, no life left.

SCHULTZ: But international criminal attorney Kip Hale says no one should underestimate the significance of this decision.

KIP HALE: Justice finally caught up to Mladic, is how I'd put it. The verdict consents were manifestly fair for the horrific crimes that he supervised, organized and ultimately tried to cover up.

SCHULTZ: Prosecutors say they'll read this 1,700-page decision before deciding whether they will also appeal, trying to get Mladic convicted on the one charge he escaped today. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in The Hague. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.