Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
Sarajevo - Twenty years after Ratko Mladic's forces began raining artillery fire on Sarajevo, the former Serb general looked down again on the Bosnian capital's main square from a giant screen showing the start of his genocide trial live from The Hague.
Those who had survived a siege in which 10 000 died cursed the name of a man showing only defiance, not remorse.
But in a stark sign of the chasm that still divides Bosnia's peoples, in the cafes of his wartime stronghold of Pale, just 16 km (10 miles) away, his every appearance on the television screens set off applause.
“They accused an honourable man,” said Serb student Mladen Mancic. “Crimes were committed by all sides. This is just an honourable man who defended the Serb people. If it wasn't for him we wouldn't be here today.”
The scars of Bosnia's 1992-95 war, in which 100,000 people died, are far from healed, anger and hatred kept alive by nationalist leaders and partisan media frozen in a cycle of accusation and recrimination.
Even in Sarajevo, few seemed to believe a trial could bring healing, or even justice.
“They shouldn't have tried him. They should have liquidated him immediately,” said Hasna Hadzic, a pensioner who survived the 43-month siege of what was once a multi-ethnic city.
Mladic, now 70, could be jailed for life if convicted of a list of 11 charges including genocide, murder, acts of terror and crimes against humanity.
Perhaps mercifully, the television pictures did not show him making a throat-slitting gesture in court towards a Muslim woman who lost husband, son and brothers in the Srebrenica massacre, for which Mladic is also indicted.
Many of those who stopped to watch the screens under grey skies were angry at the courtesy afforded in court to a man accused of having thousands of corpses bulldozed into pits.
“They let him walk free for 16 years; the whole world let him kill us for years, and now they address him as 'Mr' Mladic, 'General' Mladic! What 'Mr'? He's a killer! It's so shameful,” said pensioner Asim Dzemat.
But in Pale, the base from where Serb forces orchestrated the siege of Sarajevo, resentment at the treatment of a man many still consider a hero ran just as deep - a sign that vastly differing interpretations of the war are no nearer to being reconciled.
“This is an injustice against the Serb people,” said another student, Milan Ivanovic.
To stop the fighting, a peace accord split the country into two autonomous regions, one dominated by Serbs, the other by Muslims and Croats, in a weak joint state governed by ethnic quotas.
The dividing lines were supposed to blur, but have proven remarkably resilient, and hindered development
In Mladic's native village of Kalinovik in eastern Bosnia, the view of the Hague tribunal was as clear as it was in Pale
“Nobody has had a fair trial there, and he won't either,” said villager Ljubo Mandic. “He was just a career man. He never killed, never slaughtered anyone.” - Reuters