SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – She remembers Ratko Mladic looking straight into her eyes and promising to spare the other children. A soldier had just killed a 3-year-old who was crying too loud.
She remembers, too, the arrogant swagger as he barked murderous orders to his troops that showed his promise to be a lie.
For Munira Subasic, these are the two sides of the Bosnian Serb general who goes on trial Wednesday on genocide charges: the sly deceiver and the ranting bully.
Now Subasic wants to see the man who called himself “the Serbian God” try to defend himself as he faces justice at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague. This time if he tries to brag or yell, the judge can just switch off his microphone or kick him out of the courtroom.
She’ll be there in the courtroom to witness his powerlessness.
Mladic stands accused of commanding Bosnian Serb forces in Europe’s worst massacre since World War II, including the slaughter of some 8,000 Muslims in the enclave of Srebrenica and other atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Subasic was in Srebrenica, in July 1995, when the eastern Bosnian town was overrun by Mladic’s forces and he declared its fall a “gift to the Serbian people.”
Along with some 40,000 other Srebrenica residents, Subasic fled to the U.N. peacekeepers’ compound just outside the town hoping the Blue Helmets would protect them. But Mladic shouted threats at the Dutch base commander, then ordered that men be separated from women.
“Surrender your weapons and I will guarantee you life,” he told the Bosnian Muslim men and boys, some as young as 11. “You can survive or you can disappear.”
But it was those who obeyed who disappeared: Their bodies are still being found in mass graves scattered around the town. Thousands who refused managed to escape to freedom.
Subasic watched as Bosniak men boarded buses for the last time as U.N. soldiers directed the traffic. She saw the Serb soldier kill the 3-year-old child with a rifle shot. She felt the whole world had let the people of Srebrenica down.
“Even God has let us down,” she recalled thinking.
Desperate, she approached Mladic and begged him to at least spare the children.
“I will spare them, don’t cry,” she remembers him saying. He looked her straight in the eye and said: “As soon as we interrogate them, they will be exchanged.”
All along, she said, “he behaved as the most powerful man in the world, awarding death sentences and life at leisure.”
In the Serb town of Lazarevo, where Mladic was captured last year, attitudes are starkly different.
The village, populated mostly by Bosnian Serbs, reacted with fury to his arrest, chanting and blocking journalists from the house where the raid took place. Villagers want to rename their village Mladicevo in honor of their hero.
“My brother has a big picture of Mladic in his home,” said an elderly man who identified himself only as Bora. “Every time I go in, I kiss that picture as if he were my father.”
The Bosnian Serb warlord was captured in the dilapidated red-roofed house of his cousin Branislav Mladic.
“If only I had known the two men were all alone in there,” neighbor Klara Zoric said of Mladic’s days in hiding. “I would have taken them some roast meat or pie to eat.”
Throughout the war that claimed some 100,000 lives, cameras followed Mladic around Bosnia and filmed him issuing orders and celebrating his victories, as Serb crowds cheered him on.
Video footage, available on YouTube, shows him giving candy to Srebrenica children even as his troops were taking their fathers away for execution.
In another video he is seen yelling at Dutch UN commander Thom Karremans, who stands against a wall like a bad student at a principal’s office.
“Answer my questions! Did you order your troops to shoot at my troops?” Mladic screams through an interpreter. Head down, Karremans rubs his face and mumbles almost inaudible answers.
Mladic lights a cigarette and blows smoke into Karremans’ face. His voice gets louder. He asks the Dutchman if he is married and if he has children. It sounds like a threat.
At one point a terrified Karremans pleads: “I’m a piano player. Don’t shoot the piano player.”
That’s the Mladic she had in her head for 16 years while he hid from international justice. But when Serbian authorities arrested him in May last year he looked frail, old, and half senile. She was convinced he was faking illness and memory loss.
Subasic was in the audience last year when Mladic first appeared in the court to enter his plea. Even then he tried to be the powerful general running the show.
“No, no, no, I will not listen to this nonsense,” he growled as Judge Alphons Orie tried to read the indictment to him. Orie ordered him out of the courtroom.
For the first time, the general was not in charge.
Subasic is convinced Mladic will “be lying and denying the crimes” but still hopes to learn answers to the question that has haunted her: Why?
Why is her husband Hilmo interred in the memorial cemetery near Srebrenica instead of managing the town’s bauxite mine? Why is she no longer the best dressed woman in Srebrenica, managing the local shopping mall?
And, above all, why is she still looking for the body of her son Nermin? By now she should have danced at his wedding and played with his children.
“Instead, for the past 17 years,” she said, “I am going from one mass grave to another trying to find at least one bone.”
Gec contributed from Lazarevo
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