Mladic: 'I Was Just Defending My Country'

Gerard Tubb, Sky News correspondent, in The Hague

Ratko Mladic was defiant as he faced the court that has waited 16 years to try him for genocide and war crimes.

"I am General Ratko Mladic," he told the trial judge in a frail voice but with a determined stare.

It was the first time the world has had a proper chance to see the man dubbed the Butcher of the Balkans since he went into hiding 16 years ago.

Mladic told the court he is "a gravely ill man" and warned that it would have to "bear with me, be patient" on account of his health.

As the Bosnian Serb army commander during the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian war, Mladic is accused of orchestrating atrocities including the killing of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica - the worst massacre in Europe since the second world war.

But in court he claimed he did not kill anyone.

"I did not kill Croats as Croats and I'm not killing anyone either in Libya or Africa," he said. "I was just defending my country."

Mladic demanded that the UN treat him with dignity, saying he did not like being guarded by men wearing balaclavas.

"I don't want to be held and helped to walk as if I was a blind man," he insisted.

"I don't want to be helped unless I ask for it because I am General Mladic and the whole world knows who I am."

As expected, Mladic declined to enter pleas to the 11 charges set out in a 37-page indictment, claiming they are "obnoxious charges levelled against me".

Claiming he needed more than the court-appointed 30 days to consider his pleas he dismissed the indictment as "these monstrous words, the ones I've never heard before".

After going in to private session to discuss Mladic's concerns about his health, the judge insisted that he abide by the court rules and ordered him to return to the war crimes tribunal to enter pleas on July 4.

Mladic was arrested last week in a Serbian village and extradited by Serbia to The Netherlands on Tuesday to become the tribunal's biggest case.

He is being held in the same prison as his old political master Radovan Karadzic, who is 18 months into his trial for much the same crimes.

Prosecutors may seek to join the two cases together, with Karadzic's legal advisor Peter Robinson saying he and his client will speak to Mladic and his team first.

"That hasn't happened yet and won't likely happen for a few days at least," Mr Robinson said.

Serge Brammertz, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, said Mladic's capture had come "very late, but not too late" for justice to be done.

More on the Ratko Mladic story:

:: Mladic To Face War Crimes On Friday