THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic plans to boycott the U.N. war crimes court on Monday, when he is scheduled to enter a plea against charges of genocide during the Bosnian war.
Arrested in May and extradited to The Hague after 16 years on the run, Mladic defiantly rejected war crimes charges against him as “obnoxious” and “monstrous” when he was formally charged at the Yugoslavia war crimes court last month.
Mladic is accused over the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica -- Europe’s worst massacre since World War Two.
The 69-year-old career soldier will not attend his second plea hearing on Monday in order to press him demand for the appointment of his own defense lawyers, Belgrade-based lawyer Milos Saljic said.
“Mladic is not going to appear in the courtroom tomorrow unless he is forced to. He does not want to do it because he does not have his team of lawyers yet,” Saljic told Reuters on Sunday.
Mladic’s former political chief Radovan Karadzic boycotted the start of his trial in 2009 and it is considered unlikely that the tribunal would force Mladic to appear on Monday.
If confronted with an empty dock, or even if Mladic does attend and refuses to enter a plea, judge Alphons Orie is likely to enter a plea of “not guilty” on Mladic’s behalf.
Court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said the court had not been officially notified of Mladic’s plans and declined to comment. The tribunal is still verifying the qualifications and eligibility of the list of Mladic’s preferred attorneys.
Mladic is accused over a campaign to seize territory for Serbs after Bosnia, following Croatia, broke away from the Yugoslav federation in the 1990s as the Balkan state broke up during five years of war that killed at least 130,000 people.
The stakes are high for Serbia because Mladic’s trial could unearth evidence showing Belgrade knew about or helped commit genocide at Srebrenica if Mladic argues he was carrying out orders, or the desires, of political leaders.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2007 that Serbia failed to prevent genocide, but was not responsible for it. The decision shielded Serbia from compensation claims from Bosnia.
“If they (Serb authorities) were more strongly involved, the conclusion would still be the same that they did not prevent genocide, but because of their involvement there might be reasons to reopen the issue of compensation,” said Andre de Hoogh, a lecturer in international law at Groningen University.
Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said Mladic used his power to commit atrocities and must answer for it, but Serb nationalists say Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.
Mladic, who has said he is a “gravely ill” man, is no longer in the prison hospital and now plays chess with other detainees. He argued last month he only defended his country and people.
Lawyer Saljic said Mladic’s family will now ask Serbia and Bosnia’s Serb Republic to help pay for the general’s defense.
But Dusan Ignjatovic, head of the Office for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said it was unlikely Serbia would grant the request because Mladic did not voluntarily surrender to the court -- a requirement necessary for his defense to be funded.
“We have no official request from the Mladic family,” Ignjatovic said. “Serbia has never paid the defense for anyone ... I believe Mladic will be no exception.”
Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade