A child's meeting with Ratko Mladic, hours before the massacre of thousands

Footage of Muslim boy, 8, whose father was among those killed by Bosnian Serb troops, meeting those troops' leader shocked the world. Izudin Alic, now 24, recalls the day perfectly.

PROHICI // The footage horrified the world: a grinning Ratko Mladic patting a Muslim boy on the head and assuring him everyone in the Srebrenica area would be safe, just hours before overseeing the murder of 8,000 men and boys.

The boy in the video is now a 24-year-old man. He recalls with crystal clarity the sunny day in 1995 when he met the Bosnian Serb military commander, who gave him chocolate.

"I was 8 and I didn't know what was going on, or who Ratko Mladic was," Izudin Alic said on Tuesday.

Mr Mladic, now 69, was captured last week by Serbian intelligence agents after 16 years on the run, and the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague plans to try him on charges of genocide. Mr Mladic was sent to the Netherlands on Tuesday, hours after judges rejected his appeal of an extradition order.

In 1995, Mr Alic was among thousands of Bosnian Muslims who fled to the Srebrenica area, seeking protection from UN troops. That July evening, he joined other kids flocking to a grassy field where they heard an important soldier was handing out chocolate.

"I went there with other children and took that chocolate bar from Ratko Mladic," said Mr Alic, a lanky man with sunken eyes. "He asked me what my name was and I said Izudin. I was not afraid. I was just focused on the chocolate."

Mr Alic's grandfather had forbidden him to go, but he sneaked out of the factory where the family was hiding because he could not resist the lure of chocolate.

He was devouring it with gratitude while his father was being hunted down by Mr Mladic's men in nearby woods. His father, Sahzet, had fled the night before along with 15,000 other Srebrenica men, moving through mountains and minefields. Mr Mladic's troops soon caught up with them.

"He was found years ago in one of the mass graves," Mr Alic said, flipping through a photo album showing the family in a garden in front of their home.

The footage that captures Mr Mladic patting Mr Alic on the head generated worldwide revulsion because of the contrast between feigned benevolence and the reality of the massacre to come. Mr Mladic parades among Bosnian refugees, smilingly promising evacuation with his soldiers handing out chocolate to kids. In the video, Mr Mladic asks Mr Alic his age, and Alic responds "12." He says he lied to appear more grown-up, not realising the risks. The youngest known Srebrenica victim was 14.

The United Nations had declared the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, besieged by Serbs throughout the conflict, a protected area for civilians. When Mr Mladic's troops overran the enclave, some 20,000 people flocked to the UN base outside Srebrenica for protection.

So did the Alic family - the young boy, his two sisters, mother and grandfather.

When Serb troops reached the base, the outgunned and outnumbered Dutch peacekeepers never fired a shot, and Mr Mladic's troops began separating out the men for execution.

The family returned to settle in Prohici, just outside Srebrenica, a few years after the war. Mr Alic earns a living as a construction worker and making sandwiches at a fast-food stand.

He often prays at his father's grave in the town's memorial centre, where thousands of Mr Mladic's victims, unearthed from mass graves, were finally laid to rest.

For Mr Alic and his family, some solace came when Mr Mladic was captured last week in a village north of Belgrade.

"I was glad," Mr Alic said. "He should get the biggest sentence possible. He killed my father, my uncle and so many of our people."

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