BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic can be extradited to a U.N. tribunal on war-crimes charges despite defense claims he is too sick to face trial, a Belgrade court ruled Friday.
A defense lawyer said Mladic would appeal the decision on Monday. The former fugitive could extradited within hours if that appeal is rejected. If Mladic is extradited, he will argue that he's innocent of war crimes charges that include orchestrating some of the worst atrocities of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, the suspect's son indicated after visiting the former fugitive in jail.
"His stand is that he's not guilty of what he's being accused of," Darko Mladic told reporters outside the Belgrade court.
The U.N. tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands is seeking to try Mladic on charges that include directing the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, and involvement in the relentless four-year siege of Sarajevo.
Court spokeswoman Maja Kovacevic said Mladic refused to accept the Hague indictment during Friday's extradition hearing.
"He has a series of chronic ailments, but he's capable of following the trial," Kovacevic told reporters.
His son said Mladic, 69, suffered two strokes while on the run for 16 years, has a partially paralyzed right hand and can barely speak.
Defense lawyer Milos Saljic said Mladic "jumped from subject to subject, and spoke inconsistently," during the hearing. He said Mladic needed medical care and "should not be moved in such a state." He demanded that an "independent medical commission" examine Mladic.
Serbian war crimes prosecutors argued that the health issue appeared to be a tactic to delay Mladic's extradition, and a tribunal spokeswoman said from The Hague that it was capable of dealing with any health problems.
A police photo of Mladic showed him looking hollow-cheeked and shrunken after a decade and a half on the run, a far cry from the beefy commander accused of personally orchestrating some of the worst horrors of the Balkan wars.
The photo taken moments after his arrest in a tiny northern Serbian village shows a clean-shaven Mladic with thinning hair and wearing a navy blue baseball hat. He looks up with wide eyes, as if in surprise.
Deputy war crimes prosecutor Bruno Vekaric said that Mladic is taking a lot of medicine, but "responds very rationally to everything that is going on."
Mladic was arrested by intelligence agents in a raid before dawn Thursday at a relative's house in a village in northern Serbia. The act was trumpeted by the government as a victory for a country worthy of European Union membership and Western embrace.
One of the world's most-wanted fugitives, Mladic was the top commander of the Bosnian Serb army during Bosnia's 1992-95 war, which killed more than 100,000 people and drove another 1.8 million from their homes. Thousands of Muslims and Croats were killed, tortured or driven out in a campaign to purge the region of non-Serbs.
The residents of Lazarevo, where Mladic was caught, remained defiant.
"I know everybody in this village. Even if we saw him, they would have never been able to find him, if we knew," said villager Nedeljko Arsic. "we would have hidden him and they would have never been able to find him and arrest him."
Bosnians were deeply divided over the arrest of Mladic, with some calling him a "honorable man" and others labeling him a "monster."
The arrest and wartime memories were the main topics of discussion Friday morning. Muslim Bosniaks said they were sorry Mladic was not brought to justice before, while many Serbs claimed he was betrayed by the same people he defended.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Svan Alkalaj told AP Television in Bali, Indonesia that, "I think justice has been done."
"It's very important for reconciliation in the Balkans in general," he said.
The Serbian government, which has changed mightily while Mladic was at large, banned all public gatherings and tightened security in the country to prevent ultra-nationalists from making good on pledges to pour into the streets in protest. There was relatively little unrest overnight.
Hundreds of pro-Mladic demonstrators in the northern city of Novi Sad tried to break into the offices of the governing Democratic Party but were prevented by riot police. At least two people were reported injured.
President Boris Tadic appeared jubilant at a news conference announcing Mladic's capture and a Serbian official close to Tadic told The Associated Press that the president had personally overseen the arrest operation, and compared it to President Barack Obama's involvement in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
The arrest releases Serbia from the widespread suspicion it was protecting Mladic. U.N. war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz was due next month to give the world body a report critical of Serbia's lack of cooperation with the hunt for Mladic and other fugitives.