UN prosecutors urge life term for 'Butcher of Bosnia'

The Hague (AFP) - Prosecutors urged UN judges on Wednesday to jail Ratko Mladic for life, accusing the former Serb commander of a ruthless campaign of ethnic cleansing to create a Greater Serbia in the 1990s Balkans wars.

"It would be... an insult to the victims, living and dead, and an affront to justice to impose any sentence other than the most severe available one: a life sentence," prosecutor Alan Tieger told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"The time has come for General Mladic to be held accountable for those crimes against each of his victims and the communities he destroyed."

Once dubbed "the Butcher of Bosnia", Mladic, 74, has denied 11 charges including two of genocide, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian conflict.

More than 100,000 people died and 2.2 million others were left homeless in what prosecutors say was a relentless campaign aimed at chasing all non-Serbs from Bosnian territory with the aim of creating a Greater Serbia.

After living openly in Serbia despite an international arrest warrant against him, Mladic was finally captured in 2011 after 16 years on the run. His trial opened in May 2012.

During three days of closing arguments, prosecutors dismissed defence claims that Mladic, as the commander of Serbian forces, only had a limited role in the Bosnian conflict, maintaining he was the man "who was in charge, who called the shots."

The defence team will now open three days of closing arguments on Friday and into next week.

A verdict and judgement are not expected until some time in 2017.

- Too much pain and loss -

Mladic is notably accused of being behind the punishing 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in a relentless campaign of shelling and sniping.

According to Unicef figures, by 1994 40 percent of children in the city had been "directly shot at by snipers", some 39 percent had seen one or several relatives killed and the homes of 73 percent had been attacked, the prosecutors said.

Mladic, whose trial is the last before the ICTY, also stands accused of genocide for his role in the killings in Srebrenica, Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.

"Srebrenica has been a catastrophe for the Muslim community of eastern Bosnia, a tragedy of such proportions that my words here today cannot begin to convey to you the suffering experienced by the people of Srebrenica," another prosecutor, Peter McCloskey, told the tribunal on Wednesday.

"But the greatest tragedy is no longer found in the dead, for their suffering is over. We must also remember the families left behind," he said.

"There is too much pain, there is too much loss for any of us to truly comprehend the nature and scope of the shared misery of the women and survivors of the Srebrenica community."

Six people, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sentenced to 40 years jail in March, have been found guilty of genocide at Srebrenica.

But to the dismay of victims, judges have so far ruled that there has been insufficient evidence in any of the trials to prove that genocide was committed in seven other municipalities.

"It is hard to say that a life sentence would make us happy," Hajra Catic, head of the Women of Srebrenica association, told AFP about Mladic.

"But any other verdict would not satisfy us."

Catic, who lost 20 male family members including her husband and a son, said: "No one can bring our children back, but it is very important for us that Mladic is proclaimed guilty of genocide, since it will remain written in history forever."

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