The trial of Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague began on Wednesday, with the Bosnian Serb facing 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mladic, a former general, is accused of masterminding the week-long massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The killing is considered Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.
The systematic slaughter of unarmed men and boys took place in the presence of UN peacekeepers who were supposed to be enforcing a "safe haven."
"Ratko Mladic assumed the mantle of the criminal goal of ethnically cleansing Bosnia," prosecutor Dermot Groome told the judges at the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague.
"The prosecution will present evidence that will show without reasonable doubt the hand of Mr. Mladic in each of these crimes," Groome said.
Evaded arrest for 16 years
The 70-year-old Mladic is the last of the main protagonists from the Balkan wars to be tried before the court, having spending 16 years on the run. He was arrested last year in Serbia.
Prosecutors also accuse him of responsibility for the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, a "terror campaign" of sniping and shelling by Bosnian Serb forces that left 10,000 civilians dead.
Mladic has dismissed the charges against him, although he has not entered an official plea.
His lawyer, Branko Lukic, has said the Mladic has suffered three strokes and is too ill to stand trial.
The hearing is scheduled to continue on Thursday and resume on May 29.
'Salient reminder of justice''
The organization Human Rights Watch said the trial opening was a "salient reminder that justice catches up with those accused of atrocity crimes."
Families of those who died at Srebrenica say they want to see justice done.
Mladic, nicknamed the "Butcher of Bosnia," acted as the Serb military commander in the Bosnian war of 1992 to 1995. The list of charges against him ranges from genocide to murder, acts of terror and other crimes against humanity.
Arrested last May at a relative's house in north-eastern Serbia, he has so far remained defiant - dismissing the charges as "monstrous."
"The whole world knows who I am," he told a hearing last year. "I am General Ratko Mladic. I defended my people, my country ... now I am defending myself."
mz,rc/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)