The man accused of overseeing the worst massacre of civilians in Europe since World War II was flown to The Hague on Tuesday for trial after judges rejected his argument that he was too frail to be extradited.
Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general, was bundled onto a plane in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, late Tuesday afternoon to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his part in the savage ethnic cleansing campaigns of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Mladic's lawyer had tried to prevent his transfer on the grounds that the onetime military commander, 69, had suffered at least two strokes and was too mentally clouded to stand trial. But prosecutors dismissed the argument as a delaying tactic, and judges rejected the appeal soon after receiving it Tuesday.
His extradition just hours later showed Serbian government officials' eagerness to get Mladic out of the headlines and out of their hair. While much of the West hailed his capture last week, many Serbs still lionize him as a hero, with thousands of protesters turning out in Belgrade over the weekend to denounce his arrest. Thousands more gathered Tuesday in the town of Banja Luka in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina to voice support for Mladic, the Associated Press reported.
Mladic was in charge of the troops who overran the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995 and rounded up 8,000 Muslim men and boys for execution in the space of a few days. He is also accused of war crimes in connection with the siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, which was mercilessly shelled and fired on for nearly four years, resulting in the deaths of 10,000 people.
His arrest was a key demand by Western governments and the European Union, which made it a precondition for Serbia's application to join the 27-nation bloc.
At The Hague, Mladic joins his former boss, Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who was arrested three years ago and is already on trial on similar charges. Analysts say it's possible that proceedings against Mladic will piggyback on Karadzic's trial in order to expedite matters. Previous trials of suspected war criminals from the former Yugoslavia have often been bogged down by delays.
Before authorities dispatched him to the Netherlands on Tuesday, Mladic was allowed to visit briefly the grave of his daughter, a concession he had repeatedly requested. Her suicide in 1994, with one of his own pistols, left Mladic so distraught that there is reportedly a week's gap in the voluminous notes he kept throughout the war, which investigators discovered hidden behind a false wall in his Belgrade home last year.
"He was at the grave for a few minutes," deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric told the Associated Press, which said that Mladic laid flowers and a candle at the gravesite.
Mladic was indicted in 1995, before the war had even concluded. His 16 years as a fugitive ended Thursday when authorities raided a home about 40 miles north of Belgrade and found him inside, frail and disheveled, a much-reduced figure from his days as a feared wartime general.