Man behind Srebrenica Massacre faces Court

MARK COLVIN: The Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic is expected to be transferred to an international tribunal in The Hague in nine or 10 days. 

At the moment he's still in Belgrade where he was seen this morning being escorted to an interview with an investigative judge at the special war crimes court. But that meeting didn't last long, his lawyer claimed Mladic had a serious medical condition and was hardly responsive.

Mladic faces war crimes charges for a wide range of offences relating to the Balkans War. But undoubtedly the single greatest atrocity he's associated with is the Srebrenica massacre of 1995.

Srebrenica was a Muslim enclave, allegedly under international protection, but actually the Dutch UN garrison there was undermanned and outgunned.

Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books wrote and reported extensively on the subject during and after the Balkans war. He told me a short time ago about how Ratko Mladic had bulldozed past the objections of the UN and the resistance of its garrison.

MARK DANNER: He made it clear gradually to the Dutch that he was willing to kill them, first of all, and secondly, and what was most important, that they could not count on the United Nations and the forces of the West to rescue them using air power. Because really they did not have enough arms on their own in any shape or form to defend themselves if it really came down to a full-fledged Serb attack. 

MARK COLVIN: And he created a sort of piece of theatre on the parade ground involving a pig in front of the amassed Dutch and their commanding officer.

MARK DANNER: He did and basically … well that was a great deal after he succeeded in seizing the town without loss of life basically. He set up a series of kind of demonstrations, as you call them, including the slaughter of a pig, including a feast in the town centre and including the famous ceremony in which he invited the commander of the Dutch forces to share a toast of champagne with him celebrating the fall of the town. 

All of this was deeply humiliating of course to the United Nations, to the Dutch in particular and it was the, in a sense, the opening act for what became the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. 

MARK COLVIN: So how did that unfold? 

MARK DANNER: Mladic, and there is extensive film on this, Mladic strutted into the town very proud, very much the conquering hero, assured everyone that they would be safety evacuated, gave candy to children, essentially assured the West, in a series of public statements, that people would not be killed, that he would vouch for the safety of everyone. And he eventually divided the population into males, on one hand, including young, fairly young males, but everyone, all of military-age males on one hand and women and children on the other. 

And the women and children were placed on buses, horrible scenes of terror as they were separated from their men. They were put on buses, the buses went through occupied territory, many of these women were raped and abused in various ways in this kind of nightmare journey. 

MARK COLVIN: Some of them were killed too. 

MARK DANNER: Some of them were killed. A fair number of them were killed. But while this was going on, while the women were being carried off, the men were being taken off separately in buses, many of them were brought to various schools in the area and there they were abused, beaten, a number of them were killed, some were put in agricultural warehouses. 

And then eventually they were carried by trucks and buses to very carefully chosen execution grounds, where they were made to wait, sometimes for hours, and then systematically shot. You know and we're talking here between 7,000 and 8,000 people and this was carried out over several days. It was clearly very well prepared and systematic. 

MARK COLVIN: I was going to say as with Auschwitz, as with a lot of what happened in Germany during the war, this involved a great deal of logistical backup. It involved an awful lot of buses, an awful lot of places to put people and so forth. It was very highly organised.

MARK DANNER: Absolutely. You can think of it as a kind of moving extermination camp. It was unlike Auschwitz in that you didn't have the set up with gas chambers and all the rest but you're quite right it was similar to Auschwitz in that it was highly and meticulously planned to kill after all a very large number of people in a very short amount of time. 

MARK COLVIN: And no question that it was organised and planned by Mladic by or under Mladic's orders?

MARK DANNER: No question whatever. In fact there's various radio traffic you know in which he is implicated. It will be, obviously this was going to be, when it comes down to the Hague and the War Crimes Tribunal itself, this will come down to questions of what orders were given at what moment but my impression is that there is a very, a quite extensive record, including radio transcripts and other things and I would be very surprised if they had difficulty proving the case. 

MARK COLVIN: When you hear, as we have heard here today, Serbs saying that it's a disgrace that he's been arrested and that he was one of the great Serb fighters, what do you think? 

MARK DANNER: Well, I feel a bit desperate when I hear that although to be candid, I don't feel surprised. He was very popular in Serbia and I suppose the best answer to give is that it's salutary that we be reminded of that; that this was not simply an evil man doing evil things and there's a population that did not know what was going on. In fact this, Srebrenica itself was the climax of a war in which genocide was used as the most important weapon of war. 

It's where we got the term "ethnic cleansing," it's where in fact over the three years of this war perhaps 150,000 or more Bosnians, the overwhelming proportion of them civilians, were massacred and those massacres were a method of warfare, of clearing territory and Srebrenica does not stand out from that; it was only the climax of it and the single most concentrated example of it. 

And it's, I think, I hate to say it, awful as it is, we should be reminded that this was not simply an evil man doing evil things. This was a very evil war fought in the most evil terms and a war that the West was unable to stop, did not show the…

MARK COLVIN: Unable or unwilling? 

MARK DANNER: …to stop. Well unwilling is the better word, you're quite right. In fact by the time of Srebrenica the West had long since known of these massacres, knew it very well indeed and it should have been stopped long, long, long before. 

MARK COLVIN: Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books. And you can hear a longer version of that interview on our website from this evening.


Mark Danner speaks about the Mladic arrest on ABC News Australia. 

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