BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia’s war crimes court rejected an appeal against the extradition of Ratko Mladic on Tuesday, opening the way for the former Bosnian Serb general’s dispatch to The Hague to stand trial, a spokeswoman said.
Earlier in the day, Serbian officials said Mladic could be sent to the international criminal court within 24 hours, making a late night Tuesday or early Wednesday departure most likely.
The accused war criminal’s last day in Serbia began with a police-escorted visit to the Belgrade grave of his daughter Ana, who committed suicide in 1994.
Mladic is charged with genocide in the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
The court received the Mladic appeal on Tuesday morning after his cemetery visit and rejected it within hours. His lawyer said he had new medical evidence.
The justice minister scheduled a news conference for 5 p.m. local time (1500 GMT).
During a prison visit on Monday, Mladic met his five-year old grandson, possibly for the first time, and his 10-year-old granddaughter. His wife and son were expected to visit him again on Tuesday afternoon.
Mladic’s lawyer and family say the 69-year-old, who was captured alone in a cousin’s farmhouse, is mentally unstable and too sick to be extradited to the tribunal.
Yet he was able to elude justice for 16 years, a fact that in recent years held back Serbia’s progress in achieving membership in the European Union as Brussels has insisted on his capture and transfer to the international court.
Mladic’s arrest has also highlighted continued deep ethnic divisions in Bosnia, where he fought to create a separate Serb entity. As a result of the war, a Serb Republic exists as one of two halves under a weak central Bosnian government.
Around 10,000 Bosnian Serbs pledged support for their wartime commander in the Serb Republic’s capital Banja Luka, an affront to Muslims elsewhere in Bosnia who view the general as a brutal murderer.
Buses arrived from across the Serb Republic, many filled with his former soldiers bearing his photo.
“There are more Mladics in Serbia, they grow and will continue where he stopped,” Srdjan Nogo of the ultra-nationalist organisation Srpske Dveri from Belgrade told the crowd.
(Additional reporting by Gordana Katana in Banja Luka; Editing by Ralph Boulton)