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War crimes

Mladic defense case opens at Hague war crimes court

The defense case of Bosnian Serb army leader Ratko Mladic has opened in the Hague. Mladic, who has denied the charges, is accused of masterminding some of the worst post-World War II atrocities in Europe.

Mladic, who earlier this year branded the United Nations court "satanic," faces 11 indictments that range from hostage-taking to genocide.

The 72-year-old is accused of masterminding some of the worst atrocities during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, which pitted Croats, Muslims and Serbs against each other. Mladic, who denies the charges, faces life impisonment if convicted at the Hague's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

The ICTY last month upheld the charges against Mladic after a hearing was held to decide if there was still enough evidence to proceed.

Presiding judge Alphons Orie ruled that the defendant "had a case to answer on all counts of the indictment."

Orie has allowed Mladic's lawyers 207 hours to question witnesses - the same amount of time that was given to the prosecution, which finished its case earlier this year. There is no restriction on the number of witnesses who may be called.

Time spent on the run

Mladic was arrested in Serbia in 2011, after spending 16 years as a fugitive. Prosecutors accused Mladic of being responsible for the Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were rounded up and murdered.

The atrocity ranks as a the worst in Europe since World War II. Forces led by Mladic overran Dutch UN troops before the victims were taken, killed and buried in mass graves.

The son of a World War II partisan fighter, Mladic is also accused of setting up detention centers and camps as part of a campaign of "ethnic cleansing."

Known as the "Butcher of Bosnia," Mladic is alleged to have led a 44-month campaign against residents of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in which some 10,000 people were killed, largely by sniping and shelling.

In addition, he is charged with holding hostage a group of more than 200 United Nations peacekeepers and keeping them as "human shields" to deter NATO air strikes against strategic locations.

rc/ipj (AFP, dpa)

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