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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 00:28 GMT
Mladic village respects 'great man'
By Nick Hawton
BBC News, Kalinovik

Gen Mladic
Gen Mladic has been indicted over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre
In the bleak, snow-covered mountain village, the talk is of "the general".

"He's a hero. A soldier with a great heart, "Boban Skrka, 38, tells me, swallowing a beer in the local Fontana Bar.

"He used to punish soldiers who disobeyed orders. The claims that he is guilty of genocide are just lies. Pure lies."

The barman shouts over to us: "They'll never catch him. He'll have the unknown grave of a hero."

This is Kalinovik, the village where Ratko Mladic - the former commander of Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 Bosnian war - was born.

At this time of year this remote area of southern Bosnia is battered by snow and ice.

Ratko, a local shepherd
Local people are reluctant to talk to outsiders about Gen Mladic

The recent speculation that Gen Mladic may be on the verge of surrender or arrest, after nearly a decade on the run, has brought attention to the village once again.

Prosecutors at The Hague tribunal accuse Gen Mladic of genocide. But here, such talk amounts to blasphemy.

The place has few attractions apart from the Sun Dancing Girls Bar and the down-at-heel Fontana, with its music blaring out, eulogising the general.

On the hill above the town, a fort - built during the Austro-Hungarian rule of Bosnia 100 years ago - stands sentinel.

But these days the only things worth watching over are the sheep and cows that wander the fields and the streets of the village.

'No hero'

Everyone is reluctant to talk to a foreigner about Gen Mladic. His friends and relatives still live here and no-one wants to get in their bad books.

If he (Gen Mladic) asked me for a bed tonight I would not give it him because it would only bring me trouble
Ratko, villager

Radomir is a Serb refugee from Sarajevo. He used to be a welder. Now he is unemployed and does not know where the next money is coming from to help his family.

"No-one's a hero for me today. I lost everything during the war. But I don't want to talk about the general. I never met him."

On the hillside, the general's namesake is Ratko, 65, the shepherd.

His bright blue eyes and quick smile are warming. He is wearing an old army jacket, the only warm clothes he possesses.

"Don't ask me about the general. All I can tell you is that - in 12 years - my eyes have not seen him. If he asked me for a bed tonight I would not give it him because it would only bring me trouble the next day."

Tight lipped

A neighbour, who does not look all that dissimilar to the general himself, says he does not want to talk to us.

Boban Skrka
Boban Skrka believes Mladic is a hero

He says he has seen hundreds of journalists and he does not trust them.

He says he will only comment when the whole matter has been settled one way or the other.

Back at the Fontana, and the plum brandy is going down a treat as more locals turn up to give their views, which amount to the same thing - Gen Mladic was a great man and he will never go to The Hague unless he himself decides to go there.

It seems whatever happens to the general in the coming week and months, he can depend on his home village for support.

Watch Carla Del Ponte's statement on Ratko Mladic


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