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Genocidal Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic begins life sentence

Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic, whose forces carried out the worst massacre in Europe since the Second World War, has been convicted of genocide and other crimes and sentenced to life behind bars.

Mladic, defiant to the last, was ejected from a courtroom at the United Nations' Yugoslav war crimes tribunal after yelling at judges: "Everything you said is pure lies. Shame on you!"

He was sent to a neighbouring room to watch on TV as Presiding Judge Alphons Orie pronounced him guilty of 10 counts that also included war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Human-rights organisations hailed the convictions as proof that even top military brass long considered untouchable cannot evade justice forever. Mladic spent years on the run before his arrest in 2011.

"This landmark verdict marks a significant moment for international justice and sends out a powerful message around the world that impunity cannot and will not be tolerated," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's Europe director.

For prosecutors, it was a fitting end to a 23-year effort to mete out justice at the UN tribunal for atrocities committed during the Balkan wars of the early 1990s.

Mladic's conviction signalled the end of the final trial before the tribunal closes its doors by the end of the year.

But Mladic's attorneys vowed to appeal against his convictions on 10 charges related to atrocities from the beginning of the 1992-95 Bosnian war to its end.

Mladic's son, Darko, said his father told him after the verdict that the tribunal was a "Nato commission ... trying to criminalise a legal endeavour of Serbian people in times of civil war to protect itself from the aggression."

Judge Orie started the hearing by reading out horrors perpetrated by forces under Mladic's control.

"Detainees were forced to rape and engage in other degrading sexual acts with one another. Many Bosnian Muslim women who were unlawfully detained were raped," Orie said.

The judge recounted the story of a mother who ventured into the streets during the siege of Sarajevo with her son as Serb snipers and artillery targeted the Bosnian capital. She was shot. The bullet passed through her and killed her seven-year-old son.

The war reached its bloody climax in Srebrenica as Bosnian Serb forces overran what was supposed to be a UN-protected safe haven. Serb forces systematically murdered some 8,000 Muslim males after transporting away women and children.

"Many of these men and boys were cursed, insulted, threatened, forced to sing Serb songs and beaten while awaiting their execution," Judge Orie said.

Mladic looked relaxed as the hearing started, greeting lawyers, crossing himself and giving a thumbs-up to photographers.

But half way through the hearing his lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, asked for a delay because the general was suffering from high blood pressure. The judge refused, Mladic started yelling and was thrown out of court.

The conflict in the former Yugoslavia erupted after the country's break-up in the early 1990s, with the worst crimes taking place in Bosnia.

More than 100,000 people died and millions lost their homes before a peace agreement was signed in 1995. Mladic went into hiding for around 10 years before his arrest in Serbia in May 2011.

Mladic's political master during the war, former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic was also convicted last year for genocide and sentenced to 40 years. He has appealed against the ruling.

The man widely blamed for fomenting wars across the Balkans, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, died in his UN cell in 2006 before tribunal judges could reach verdicts in his trial.

Top Bosnian Serb political leader Milorad Dodik said the court was established with the "single purpose" of demonising Serbs, describing Mladic as "a hero and a patriot."

Serbian President Alksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who supported Mladic's war campaigns but now casts himself as a pro-EU reformer, agreed that the court has been biased against Serbs but added that "we should not justify the crimes committed" by the Serbs.

The verdict was sweet relief for a former prisoner of Serb-run camps in north-western Bosnia who was in The Hague.

Fikret Alic became a symbol of the horrors in Bosnia after his skeletal frame was photographed by Time magazine behind barbed wire in 1992 in a Bosnian Serb camp.

"Justice has won," he said. "And the war criminal has been convicted."

AP

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