Mladic genocide trial to begin in March
The Hague - The trial of Bosnian Serb ex-army chief Ratko Mladic, accused of committing genocide and war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, should open in March, a judge at a UN court said on Thursday.
"The chamber expects to schedule, and I insist at this stage on the word expects, to schedule the pre-trial conference on March 26 and the opening statements of the prosecution and the defence on March 27," Alphons Orie said at a sitting of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
If the trial does go ahead as planned, it would mean Mladic facing justice 20 years after the start of the brutal three-year war between Muslims and ethnic Serbs.
Mladic's lawyer however told the court that March would be too early for the defence team to present its case while the accused himself said that he was not bothered about the trial date.
Arrested in Serbia on May 26 after 16 years on the run, Mladic is facing 11 overall counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his part in the 1992-95 war that killed around 100 000 people.
He has denied the charges, including responsibility for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre when more than 7 000 Muslim men and boys were killed over a period of six days. It was Europe's worst war-time atrocity since World War II.
The court is keen to avoid the legal process becoming bogged down, aware that Mladic's boss, Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, evaded justice when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 2006 before his war crimes trial concluded.
In an address to the court on Thursday, Mladic said he was in no rush to see his trial begin.
"Maybe you're in a hurry. I'm not. For me, time is of no consequence," he said.
His lawyer Branko Lukic also told the court that March was unrealistic.
"I'm afraid we won't be ready to start trial at this date," he said.
Mladic used his appearance before the court to criticise his treatment in a special detention facility since he was was captured and then brought to The Hague.
"You don't even allow my friends and supporters from Russia to visit me," he said, adding that he had lost 24kg in weight in the last few months.
Earlier in the hearing, Mladic had specifically denied being responsible for the murders of more than 30 Muslims in the eastern Bisina region towards the end of the conflict.
"I am not guilty and I have absolutely nothing to do with this," the 69-year-old said, adding that he had never even heard of Bisina. "Is it a mountain, is it a river?" he said.
The killings in Bisina, also in July 1995, were added in October to the original charge sheet.
The number of specific charges in the indictment against Mladic was slashed to 106 from 196 by the court last week.