Mladic says too ill to attend war crimes court hearing

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Bosnian Serb ex-army chief Ratko Mladic was unable to attend a hearing before the former Yugoslav war crimes court Thursday, telling judges he was too ill.

The 69-year-old former general who is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes has been complaining of ill health since his first appearance before the Hague-based tribunal in June.

"I am unable to attend court proceedings on this date due to illness," Mladic said in a document Thursday, published by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"I waive my right to be present at the court on this date and give my consent for the proceedings to continue in my absence, but in the presence of my counsel," he said in a signed statement.

Mladic, who faces 11 counts before the tribunal was scheduled to appear Thursday to plead on a new charge relating to the murder of 30 Muslims at Bisina in eastern Bosnia on July 23 1995.

Tribunal judge Alphons Orie however told the court he received a medical report and the statement from Mladic waiving his right to appear.

"The chamber postpones his appearance to a later date to be communicated by the Registry," the judge said, as he continued with the hearing to check on the status of Mladic's case.

The man dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" was arrested in Serbia on May 26 after 16 years on the run. He told judges he was a "gravely ill man" at his first appearance on June 3.

His lawyer Branko Lukic on Wednesday told Serb news agency SRNA in an interview that his client's health condition was "very serious" and that he had to move around in a wheelchair.

A detention unit nurse who examined him earlier Thursday said in the document Mladic showed "observable symptoms which indicate that he may feel too unwell to attend court."

"I assess that his illness will require an extended period of convalescence," the nurse added.

Mladic, who is accused in particular of masterminding the murder of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, has repeatedly asked to be examined by Serbian doctors, with ICTY chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz saying last month that his health was "an area of concern."

His Belgrade-based lawyer Milos Salic said he was hospitalised in October with pneumonia, but the tribunal did not deny nor confirm this.

Brammertz asked the court in August for the trial to be split in two -- one dealing solely with Srebrenica and the second with the rest of the charge sheet: the 44-month siege of Sarajevo which claimed some 10,000 lives, crimes committed in other Bosnian municipalities, and the kidnapping of UN personnel.

Families of victims at Srebrenica, Europe's worst atrocity since WWII, hailed the prosecutor's move, saying they feared Mladic would die before being judged, as what happened to his erstwhile mentor, former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

But the court on October 13 rejected the call, saying two separate proceedings "could prejudice the accused, render the trial less manageable and less efficient, and risk unduly burdening witnesses."

The trial is expected to start next year.

Milosevic died in his cell at the ICTY detention centre in March 2006 as his trial was nearing its end.

© 2011 AFP

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