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Justice at last for a dirty Rat.

Byline: Mark Austin

SIXTEEN years ago, while filming during the darkest days of the war in Bosnia, I was handed a videotape that made me feel physically sick.

It contained images of General Ratko Mladic drinking a toast to the "liberation" of Srebrenica.

He was smiling, slapping his soldiers on their backs and knocking back rakia... a highly alcoholic Serbian national drink.

It made me feel sick because, of course, what had happened was not liberation but a massacre.

Mladic and his henchmen were "celebrating" the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II and it was hideous to watch . His army had besieged the town of Srebrenica, even though it had been declared a United Nations safe haven.

After days of shelling and sniper fire he'd entered the town and promised thousands of Muslim men taking refuge there with their families that they would be safe if they handed over their weapons.

In the event, women and children were bussed out and their husbands and teenage sons were carted off, forced to dig their own graves and then shot.

Hundreds who tried to escape were shelled as they fled through a forest.

When I was handed the videotape, I was about to film in a makeshift tented camp for the Srebrenica mothers and wives who had been allowed to leave.

What I remember as I entered the camp was the crying. Women and girls everywhere distraught and in despair.

And there was real anger. Anger with the blue-helmeted UN troops who were at the camp and who were supposed to be protecting them in Srebrenica.

"Bring me back my husband," one woman was screaming. "Bring him back dead or alive."

But very few came back alive. War crime investigators estimate that 8,000 men and boys were massacred in just a few days in July 1995.

Mladic was brutal and ruthless. I only met him once. Well, it was barely a meeting. I was being held with other journalists at a roadblock in Serbian-controlled Bosnia when a jeep with Mladic in the passenger seat came through.

He smiled, said something to the troops manning the checkpoint, and went on his way.

The soldiers then laughed and told us he'd said that all of us were probably spies.

It was a frightening moment. It has taken 16 years, but the arrest of Mladic is very good news for the surviving victims of Srebrenicia.

It is also a boost for Serbia's democratically elected government, which knew it had no future in the EU until Mladic was captured.

The fact it has taken so long to bring him to justice is desperately worrying. It shows there are those in Serbia willing to protect war criminals and that hatred still runs deep there.

His partner in war crime, Radovan Karadzic, was arrested back in 2008, but his trial in the Hague is still nowhere near over. The trial of Mladic will also take many years.

But delayed justice is still justice. And, no matter how long it takes, thousands of women from Srebrenica want to see it done.


Mladic drinks his sick toast and (inset) as he is now
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EXBO
Date:May 29, 2011
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