Serbia extradites Ratko Mladic to The Hague

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Media captionSerbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic: "The Republic of Serbia has fulfilled moral and international obligations"

Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic has been flown to the Netherlands, where he is to be tried at a UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

He was put on a plane in Belgrade shortly after a Serbian court rejected an appeal against his extradition.

Gen Mladic faces genocide charges over atrocities committed during the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s.

His lawyer had argued he was too ill to be tried. But Serbian doctors said he was fit enough to be extradited.

The 69-year-old was seized last Thursday in Lazarevo village, north of Belgrade, having been on the run for 16 years.

On Tuesday, a Belgrade court ruled that Gen Mladic was fit enough to be handed over to the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic later announced she had signed the extradition papers and that Gen Mladic was already on the plane.

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The BBC's Mark Lowen in Belgrade says Gen Mladic's departure was even faster than most had predicted.

It seems the Serbian government acted to preempt any protests by his supporters by not making any announcement about the extradition until he was gone, our correspondent adds.

Candle and flowers

The Serbian government jet touched down at Rotterdam The Hague Airport at about 1945 local time (1745 GMT). It taxied from the runway into a hangar, whose doors were quickly closed.

Image caption Gen Mladic arrived in the Netherlands only hours after a Serbian court rejected an appeal

Gen Mladic was then taken to the detention facility of the ICTY.

He is now due to receive a full medical examination, before appearing in court in the coming days.

He is accused of crimes against humanity, including the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys.

Earlier on Tuesday, Gen Mladic had been allowed to visit the grave of his daughter Ana, albeit under heavy security.

Ana Mladic committed suicide in 1994 aged 23, reportedly shooting herself with her father's favourite pistol after she read about his alleged crimes in a magazine.

During the 20-minute visit to her grave, Gen Mladic lit a candle and left a small white bouquet of flowers with a red rose in the middle, said Serbia's deputy war crimes prosecutor, Bruno Vekaric.

Gen Mladic's arrest is considered crucial to Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

His son Darko Mladic said his father had told him he was not responsible for the killings in Srebrenica, committed after Bosnian Serb troops overran the town in July 1995.

War in the former Yugoslavia 1991 - 1999

The former Yugoslavia was a Socialist state created after German occupation in World War II and a bitter civil war. A federation of six republics, it brought together Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, Slovenes and others under a comparatively relaxed communist regime. Tensions between these groups were successfully suppressed under the leadership of President Tito.
After Tito's death in 1980, tensions re-emerged. Calls for more autonomy within Yugoslavia by nationalist groups led in 1991 to declarations of independence in Croatia and Slovenia. The Serb-dominated Yugoslav army lashed out, first in Slovenia and then in Croatia. Thousands were killed in the latter conflict which was paused in 1992 under a UN-monitored ceasefire.
Bosnia, with a complex mix of Serbs, Muslims and Croats, was next to try for independence. Bosnia's Serbs, backed by Serbs elsewhere in Yugoslavia, resisted. Under leader Radovan Karadzic, they threatened bloodshed if Bosnia's Muslims and Croats - who outnumbered Serbs - broke away. Despite European blessing for the move in a 1992 referendum, war came fast.
Yugoslav army units, withdrawn from Croatia and renamed the Bosnian Serb Army, carved out a huge swathe of Serb-dominated territory. Over a million Bosnian Muslims and Croats were driven from their homes in ethnic cleansing. Serbs suffered too. The capital Sarajevo was besieged and shelled. UN peacekeepers, brought in to quell the fighting, were seen as ineffective.
International peace efforts to stop the war failed, the UN was humiliated and over 100,000 died. The war ended in 1995 after NATO bombed the Bosnian Serbs and Muslim and Croat armies made gains on the ground. A US-brokered peace divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities, a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation lightly bound by a central government.
In August 1995 the Croatian army stormed areas in Croatia under Serb control prompting thousands to flee. Soon Croatia and Bosnia were fully independent. Slovenia and Macedonia had already gone. Montenegro left later. In 1999 Kosovo's ethnic Albanians fought Serbs in another brutal war to gain independence. Serbia ended the conflict beaten, battered and alone.
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Following the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in 2008, Gen Mladic became the most prominent Bosnian war crimes suspect still at large.

He was indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague in 1995 for genocide over Srebrenica - the worst single atrocity in Europe since World War II - and other alleged crimes.

Having lived freely in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, he disappeared after the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2001.

Gen Mladic is still considered a war hero by many Serbs. On Tuesday thousands of people rallied in his support in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska.

"General Ratko Mladic is our brave son who led Republika Srpska's army and us soldiers to defend it," Bosnian Serb veteran Branislav Predojevic told AFP news agency.

On Sunday, thousands of people rallied in Belgrade against his arrest, condemning the pro-Western government of President Boris Tadic for arresting him.

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