WATCH: On May 31, a Serbian police convoy escorted former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic from a Belgrade court to the airport for extradition to face war crimes charges in The Hague (video by RFE/RL's Balkan Service).
BELGRADE/WASHINGTON-- Serbian authorities have extradited Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic to the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, where he will face genocide, war crimes, and other charges stemming from his role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
The extradition follows a court decision on May 27 that declared the 69-year-old fit for transfer to the Netherlands-based international court, despite objections by his lawyer and relatives that he is too frail to stand trial. Then, on May 31, a Belgrade court rejected a similar appeal from Mladic's lawyer and he was shuttled into international custody within hours.
"Ratko Mladic has been extradited during this afternoon to the Hague tribunal," Serbian Justice Minister Snezana Malovic announced at a news conference in Belgrade. "On the basis of the constitution and the laws of the republic of Serbia, as the minister of justice of the government of the Republic of Serbia, I have signed the decision granting the extradition of Ratko Mladic."
Mladic later arrived on a Serbian government jet in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, before a helicopter-escorted convoy transferred him to the tribunal's detention center outside The Hague.
Tribunal spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said Mladic would be given a list of defense lawyers who could help him through the initial proceedings of the war crimes court and would be examined by a doctor.
She said he would be spending his first night at the detention center in isolation -- standard practice for new arrivals at the prison.
Mladic is expected to make his initial court appearance within a few days, at which time he will be asked to confirm his identity and enter a plea to each of the charges against him.
He may decline to plead to the charges at his first appearance, instead opting to delay a formal response by up to a month.
Mladic has said that he does not recognize the authority of the international court.
The man who was UN tribunal's most-wanted fugitive had spent nearly 16 years on the run before his capture on May 26 in a northern Serbian village.
He is accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the deaths of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica and the bloody four-year siege of Sarajevo.
The Srebrenica massacre of July 1995 is considered the worst atrocity committed in Europe since World War II.
In announcing his extradition, Malovic said Serbia had fulfilled its "moral and international obligation."
PHOTO GALLERY: The 24 hours leading up to Ratko Mladic's arrival at The Hague to face trial for genocide and other alleged war crimes.
"With the extradition of Ratko Mladic to The Hague, [the] Republic of Serbia has fulfilled [a] moral and international obligation and we have proved that we meet our commitments," Malovic said. "Our action represents a clear confirmation that Serbia is sincerely devoted towards completing its cooperation with the [International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia]."
Hero To Some
For years, experts have speculated that ultranationalist factions within Serbia were harboring Mladic.
He is still considered a hero by some, including Bosnian Serb Nenad Batkovic, a former soldier during the Balkan wars who joined thousands of Mladic supporters for a rally in Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's Serbian entity, on May 31.
"Mladic is a symbol of freedom for me," Batkovic said. "Mladic is an invincible Serb hero. He is an immortal for the Serb Republic. We will not give up on him. Long live Ratko Mladic!"
Mladic's capture had long been declared by European officials a prerequisite for Serbia to achieve further European integration.
After Serbian special forces apprehended Mladic last week, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said that the arrest removed "a great obstacle on the Serbian road to the European Union."
WATCH: Many people in Bosnia welcomed the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the man believed responsible for the worst massacre of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. But relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica killings have found little cause for celebration, even as they welcome the chance to see justice served (video by RFE/RL's Balkan Service).
Justice Minister Malovic said the capture would also have regional benefits.
"Bringing Mladic to justice, it is a satisfaction to the victims and families of all who have been victims of the crimes for which he has been charged before the ICTY," she said. "At the same time, this act represents a message relevant [to] the process of reconciliation in the region."
Far From Over
While international prosecutors say there is ample evidence to convict Mladic, ICTY spokeswoman Jelacic told Reuters that the court proceedings are bound to be complicated.
"It is still a very serious, very complex indictment with very complex charges," Jelacic said. "We now have two charges of genocide instead of one to cover the first year of the war, May 1992 to May 1993 in the first charge, and the second one, obviously, to cover the July 1995 genocide in Srebrenica."
Ratko Mladic (left) with former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in 1995, near the height of the conflict.
The ICTY issued a statement
after Mladic's capture in which it called "the arrest of Mladic...a milestone in the Tribunal's history and brings the institution closer to the successful completion of its mandate, with Goran Hadzic remaining the sole fugitive out of a total of 161 indictees."
The tribunal added that proceedings continue for 34 accused war criminals, and that 126 such proceedings have been concluded.
Another prominent war crimes defendant and former close ally of Mladic, onetime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, was captured in 2008 and is standing trial before the ICTY.
While the UN tribunal prepares to hear the Mladic case, many questions remain on the ground in Serbia as to just how he managed to evade capture for so long.
Speaking to RFE/RL in Belgrade, Serbian sociologist Ivan Kuzminovic said that Mladic's capture -- and the boost it gives Serbia in the eyes of the international community -- should not distract from the need to answer those questions.
"This is a kind of reality show which is produced without any funds, and it goes on and on," Kuzminovic said. "The goal [of that show] is to avoid the real questions like this: Where was Ratko Mladic for the last five or six years? Who was protecting him? Who killed the conscripts in the Topcider barracks [in Serbia, where some believed Mladic had previously been hiding]? And what was the role of the Serbian state in providing protection for Mladic?"
In announcing Mladic's capture last week, Serbian President Boris Tadic said a search was under way for "all of those who helped Mladic and other fugitive war crimes suspects" to evade capture -- including, potentially, government officials.
written by Richard Solash in Washington with Milos Teodorovic of RFE/RL's Balkans Service; additional wire reporting