By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic was a central figure in the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslims from Srebrenica, prosecutors told judges at his genocide trial on Monday.
Prosecutors were making their closing arguments in Mladic's trial, the last major war crimes case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is winding down after more than 20 years prosecuting the ethnic warfare that accompanied the 1990s collapse of Yugoslavia.
Prosecutor Alan Tieger told judges at the Tribunal that rather than the "marginalised figure" his defence attorney made him out to be, Mladic helped orchestrate the killings,
"Mladic walked into Srebrenica and vowed that the time had come to take revenge on the Turks," Tieger said of the massacre, in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys, some as young as 12, were "systematically slaughtered".
Mladic, 74, faces up to life imprisonment on two counts of genocide and nine counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Hearings are due to conclude on December 15 and a judgement is likely in 2017.
"The cleansing campaign tore apart non-Serb families and communities and left behind destroyed mosques and Catholic churches, the burned-out and empty shells of Bosnian Muslim villages and mass graves," adsded prosecutor Arthur Traldi.
Mladic, frail from a series of strokes when he was arrested in 2011, was alert, listening intently and occasionally wiping his brow with a handkerchief as prosecutors spoke.
"If Mladic hadn't come to Srebrenica my son Nermin, whose birthday it is today, would still be alive," said Munira Subasic, one of a group of grieving relatives gathered outside the court in The Hague.
Mladic was charged alongside former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison in March. Prosecutors say they masterminded a conspiracy to carve an 'ethnically pure' Serbian state out of Bosnia. [L5N16W1OS]
Tieger quoted Mladic as telling the Bosnian Serb assembly in 1994 they had an historic opportunity to create "not any kind of state, but an all-Serb state with as few enemies as possible".
Karadzic and Mladic were indicted shortly before the end of Bosnia's war, which claimed up to 100,000 lives, but spent more than a decade on the run in Serbia before their arrest.
Established in 1993, the tribunal indicted 161 individuals from all sides of the conflict and 83 have been convicted.
(Edited by Anthony Deutsch and Thomas Escritt)