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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Fall of Serbia's Infamous 'Sadist'

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia -- General Ratko Mladic, the ousted Serb military leader, has left behind a trail of destruction for the enemy and possibly a road to virtual statehood for his people.

His military career apparently coming to an end, Mladic, 53 and twice indicted by the international war crimes tribunal, was once a most unlikely candidate for the part of ruthless nationalist who would do anything to crush ethnic rivals -- and win for Serb rebels a large chunk of Bosnia.

In 1965, Mladic was a promising graduate from Belgrade's prestigious Military Academy, the epitome of Communist Yugoslavia's army and its instilled ideal of "Brotherhood and Unity."

But like other leading figures in the Yugoslav conflict, Mladic had imbibed nationalism from his family's fate in World War II. When Communism collapsed, Mladic -- like many of his compatriots -- turned to those roots in search of an ideology that made sense of his life.

Mladic was born in the tiny village of Bozinovici in southern Bosnia. His father was killed in World War II by Croat fascists in nearby Bradina.

Like thousands of peasant boys picked for an army career, Mladic was closeted in the closed world of the Yugoslav People's Army from his teenage years. He served in Macedonia and then in Serbia's troubled province of Kosovo, where minority Serbs were being squeezed out by majority ethnic Albanians.

His next posting was Knin, Croatia. The town became the stronghold of Serb revolt against Franjo Tudjman's independent Croatia, and Mladic a pivotal figure in federal army support for the Croatian Serbs' rebellion.

By May 1992, when war had spread to Bosnia, Mladic became top commander of the Bosnian Serbs. With his Bosnian origins, and previous involvement in Croatia, he seemed to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic the perfect choice for the job.

Keeping most of the Yugoslav army heavy weapons, soldiers and officers, Mladic's troops easily wrested 70 percent of Bosnia from outgunned Moslem-led government troops.

Mladic coolly commanded the Serb shelling of Sarajevo and other besieged towns, and oversaw the devastation of much of the state, as his troops killed tens of thousands of people and left millions homeless.

Last summer, Mladic overreached himself. Even his detention of hundreds of UN peacekeepers as hostages against NATO bombing raids failed to unleash the international rage that followed his capture of the Moslem enclave of Srebrenica. Reports of the massacres of thousands of Moslems who tried to escape fueled diplomacy that led to massive NATO bombing of Bosnian Serb military facilities.

Mladic's troops lost large parts of western and northwestern Bosnia. With Milosevic negotiating for them, the Bosnian Serbs were forced to acquiesce in a peace many did not want.

Mladic's military campaigns were marked by the leveling of enemy towns in fierce artillery barrages unseen in Europe since World War II. A former colleague, Yugoslav Army Colonel Gajo Petkovic, accused him of "inherent sadism."

Even the mysterious 1994 death of his daughter Ana, 23, rumored to have committed suicide because of her father's actions, did not soften Mladic. Days after the funeral, he launched a fierce attack against the Moslem enclave of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia.

Mladic saw himself as a true patriot fighting to create the first Serbian state uniting all Serbs. His troops and many Bosnian Serbs adored him for his earthy style and gruff leadership.

The Dayton peace accord officially made Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic unwanted pariahs. Twice indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, they were supposed to leave the scene.

Mladic retreated to his headquarters at Han Pijesak in eastern Bosnia, where he is rumored to have suffered several strokes, kidney failures and even psychological disorders. In virtual confinement, Mladic's new pasttime is keeping bees and goats.

Despite the indictments, his popularity among Bosnian Serbs remains high. Many top officers are said to have refused to replace him because of their solidarity with the commander, and also because the dire conditions the army found itself in.

The persistent disputes with the Bosnian Serb civilian leadership have left the army desperate, with a meager budget and generally declining since the Dayton peace accord was signed.