World must wait longer for the trial of Ratko Mladic

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic. Credit: Reuters

You might say it's just not fair.

But fairness dies in war and it has never been high on the list of Balkan priorities.

The trial of Ratko Mladic, which the world has been waiting years for, has been adjourned indefinitely.

For the women whose husbands, sons and fathers were murderedby the thousand by Mladic's men, it's a bitter blow. They will return to Srebrenica and Sarajevo, perhaps shaking their heads at the injustice of it all.

Some of them begged Mladic to spare their loved ones. He and his men never gave them the time of day and massacred eight thousand men and boys without giving them time for a cigarette, never mind a trial.

So the bereaved will go back to their ghosts and their empty chairs.

Mladic will go back to his cell, happy no doubt that he has scored another point against the war crimes tribunal he despises.

At issue are 7,000 pages of documents relating to the Srebrenica massacre, which he is accused of commanding.

Adila Suljakovic cries at the grave of her son in the Memorial Center in Potocari, near Srebrenica. Credit: Reuters

As today's evidence unfolded, the defence realised they had not been shown the documents by the prosecution. The Judge stopped the trial. The defence want six months to read the papers. The Judge is unlikely to grant such a long delay; he is under great pressure to keep the trial going.

The prosecution already cut its case in half to make sure the trial ends before the ailing Mladic dies in custody, as his boss Slobodan Milosevic did.

We did learn one important fact today; the basis of Mladic's defence against the charge that he orchestrated the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazis.

Children hold pictures of Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic during a protest in support of Mladic in Kalinovik. Credit: Reuters

Mladic will argue that he has a cast iron alibi. He will say that at the time of the killings, he was not there. He was, he says, in Belgrade, at a wedding.

This may be proved correct. But the crucial issue is whether his men were acting on the orders he gave earlier. Orders to separate Srebrenica's women and children from the rest, orders to spare none of the men or boys.

And even if it is established that he was having fun at a wedding, it says something about the man - Mladic celebrating love and romance, at the very moment that his men were slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians in ditches and fields just a few hundred miles away.

My report contains some distressing images: