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The last trial before the Hague Tribunal for crimes in Bosnia begins on Wednesday, May 16, when the prosecution presents its opening statement at the trial of Ratko Mladic.
The former commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, is indicted for genocide and other grave crimes during the 1992-5 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While many associations of war victims feel the trial should have started long ago, the defence has expressed reluctance about the start date because of the comprehensive nature of the charges and evidence.
To start the trial as soon as possible, the prosecution originally suggested that Mladic should be tried in two separate proceedings, the first for the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Bosniaks [Muslims] in Srebrenica and then another for the other charges.
The Trial chamber rejected this proposal, stating that it could violate the rights of the defence. But to speed up the proceedings, the Chamber instructed the prosecution to shorten the indictment.
As a result, the fourth changed indictment has cut the number of alleged crimes from 196 to 106.
After 16 years in hiding, Serbian police arrested Mladic on May 26, 2011, in the village Lazarevo near Zrenjanin, north of Belgrade.
Mladic has called the charges monstrous. At previous appearances before the Trial Chamber, he complained of being sick and old and expressed dissatisfaction also with the way he was being handled by the Court Police.
He also stressed that he would not be defending himself at this trial, but the Serbian people and country. I am General Ratko Mladic and the whole world knows who I am, he told one status conference.
I do not know how long Ill last; only the one above knows that. But I want to live and experience freedom. I am defending my country and its people, not Ratko Mladic, he said.
Over 400 prosecution witnesses:
The first part of the evidentiary proceedings will relate to the general review of the case.
Then the evidence regarding crimes in Sarajevo, the taking of international soldiers as hostages, persecution of the non-Serb population in 15 municipalities and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, will be presented.
The prosecution intends to call 410 witnesses of whom 158 should appear in court. Close to 28,000 pieces of material evidence will be produced.
The first witnesses will be survivors of Bosnian Serb mass executions. The testimony of Elvedin Pasic, who in November 1992 survived the execution of about 150 persons in the village of Grabovica in the municipality of Kotor Varos has been announced.
Two protected witnesses will also testify regarding the slaughter of 150 persons in Biljani and about 100 civilians in Velagici, in the municipality of Kljuc.
The court will also hear the testimony of Fejzija Hadzic regarding the massacre in Jelasicko Polje near Kalinovnik, as well as from Rajif Begic regarding the murder in Vrpolje in the municipality of Sanski Most. Another protected witness will speak about the executions at Branjevo in the municipality of Zvornik.
In the section of the trial in which the prosecution presents a general overview of the crimes from the indictment, representatives of international organizations and the media will also be invited to speak.
Trial should have started long ago:
Geert Jan Knops, a Dutch professor of law, describes Mladic as a typical general, as can be seen from his behaviour in the courtroom.
This is not a problem as long as his comments can be transformed into effective and proper legal arguments, said Knops.
Munira Subasic, president of the Association of Mothers from the enclaves Srebrenica and Zepa, which Mladics forces overran in 1995, said it was difficult to talk about the general who she met in Potocari in July 1995, when she was forced to leave her home.
In 1995, he was acting like a hero when he was facing innocent victims, he was general, and in the courtroom he is acting as he is not feeling good, acting illness. I think that this is a big d