Ratko Mladic appears at war crimes tribunal (UPDATES) (VIDEO)


Graffiti on the wall of a house shows former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic saluting in Belgrade on May 29, 2011.


Atiila Kisbenedek

Former Bosnian army head Ratko Mladic made his first war crimes court appearance at the Hague on Friday morning to face charges of genocide.

Mladic told judges at the United Nations war crimes tribunal that he was a "gravely ill man" and refused to enter any pleas to what he called the "obnoxious charges" leveled against him, including that he orchestrated the worst atrocities committed in Europe since the end of WWII, the ABC reports.

He is charged with masterminding the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995 and over his connection to the 43-month siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995, reports Al Jazeera.

Wearing a military forage cap, Mladic began the hearing with a brief salute, according to Reuters.

"The whole world knows who I am. I am General Ratko Mladic," he reportedly said at the end of his first appearance. "I defended my people, my country ... now I am defending myself... I just have to say that I want to live to see that I am a free man."

The former Bosnian Serb army commander was arrested last week in Serbia after being on the run for 16 years. He was extradited to the Hague Tuesday.

"His arrest confirms that no one can have impunity for the crimes they've committed," said Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), according to CNN.

"I hear many people commenting that his arrest ends an important chapter for international criminal justice. But the process of establishing Ratko Mladic's accountability has only just begun."

Mladic's family and lawyers have argued he is too ill to stand trial, but Serbian government doctors determined he is fit, reports BBC. Mladic is 69 and reportedly in frail health.

His lawyer told Al Jazeera he spent the night before the court appearance in a prison hospital bed.

"He has not had proper health care for years and his condition is not good," said Aleksandar Aleksic, a prominent Belgrade lawyer.

The court set Mladic's next hearing for July 4.