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Bosnia hails start of Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic has gone on trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, 20 years after his troops began ethnically cleansing Bosnian towns and villages of non-Serbs.

The ailing 70-year-old is accused of 11 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and his appearance at the UN court in The Hague marked the end of a long wait for justice for survivors of the 1992-95 war that left 100,000 people dead.

The trial is also a landmark for the UN court and international justice - Mladic is the last suspect from the Bosnian war to go on trial there.

In Bosnia, leaders and victims hailed a historic day in the country's recovery from its war wounds but some Serbs lamented Mladic's trial.

Bosnian president Bakir Izetbegovic said: "First of all we are expecting from this trial the truth. The truth and then justice for the victims, for the families of the victims. It is the worst period of our history."

But in the former Serb stronghold of Pale, people who gathered to watch the trial on TV applauded as they saw their general enter the courtroom. Mladic, wearing a suit and tie, was looking healthier than at previous pre-trial hearings, but was still a shadow of the burly, strutting wartime strongman.

He suffered a stroke while in hiding and has had other health problems since arriving in The Hague. He gave a thumbs-up and clapped toward the court's public gallery as the trial got under way. He occasionally wrote notes and showed no emotion as prosecutors began outlining his alleged crimes.

One woman in the public gallery called him a "vulture" as prosecutors began two days of laying out their case for judges.

After a break in proceedings, presiding judge Alphons Orie rebuked Mladic and the public about "inappropriate interactions", and said he could shield Mladic behind a screen if it continued.

Mladic has refused to enter pleas but he denies wrongdoing, saying he acted to defend Serbs in Bosnia. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. His lawyer, Branko Lukic, said Mladic's spirits were up ahead of the trial, adding: "But for a man in the state he is - he's a man in generally bad shape - he's feeling pretty good."

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