Ratko Mladic refuses to plead on war crimes charges

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Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic was Monday removed from a UN Yugoslav war crimes courtroom after refusing to enter a plea and continously disrupting proceedings before judges.

Mladic is accused of 11 charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), stemming from the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Security guards led the 69-year-old away after court president Judge Alphons Orie lost patience with his constant interruptions.

As he was being taken from the courtroom, an angry Mladic shouted at the three judges, telling them they were not "allowing me to breathe".

Dressed in the same grey suit as during his first appearance before the court last month, Mladic repeatedly interrupted Judge Orie, first complaining about not being able to hear the proceedings and then about being cold.

He asked Orie whether he could replace his sky-blue cap which the judge ordered be removed earlier.

"Mr Orie, I am not underestimating you in any way. I am cold on my head, let me put my cap on. When I am cold half of my body isn't functioning... you impose impossible conditions on me," he told the judge.

Orie refused, warning the former general not to communicate with the public gallery and focus his attention on proceedings.

"Mr Mladic if you continue speaking to the public, measures will be taken," Judge Orie warned.

But the man referred to as the "Butcher of Bosnia" persisted and the judge's patience finally ran out.

Shortly before being removed by UN security guards, Mladic told Orie: "You can do whatever you want, without (my lawyers), there's no need for me to receive anything or say anything, you can do whatever you want."

The hearing resumed a few minutes later with an empty dock.

Judge Orie then read out the 11 charges against Mladic including about his involvement in the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, entering an automatic not guilty plea on all of them according to ICTY regulations.

The three-judge bench added it agreed to grant an application by the court's registrar, John Hocking, for more time to appoint legal council for Mladic.

The Bosnian Serbian ex-army chief told judges he wanted his current court-appointed lawyer to be replaced by his Belgrade-based lawyer Milos Saljic and Russian Alexander Mezyayev.

ICTY spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told AFP that should Mladic himself want to enter a not guilty plea at any stage he would be able to do so.

And she said Saljic would have been allowed to attend Monday morning's proceedings, but "It turned out he was not even in Netherlands."

Once one of Europe's most wanted men, Mladic was arrested on May 26 in northeastern Serbia after 16 years on the run. He was transferred to the UN's detention unit in The Hague five days later and made his first appearance in court on June 3.

Accused of committing atrocities during Bosnia's 1992-95 war that killed 100,000 people, Mladic faces charges of masterminding the Srebrenica massacre -- Europe's worst mass killing since World War II -- and the 44-month siege of the capital Sarajevo from May 1992 in which 10,000 people died.

His actual trial could however take months to get under way and is likely to last for several years.

Mladic's one-time mentor Slobodan Milosevic died in The Hague four years into his own genocide trial in 2006 after a heart attack.

His former political chief, Radovan Karadzic, has been conducting his own defence in his war crimes trial that started in October 2009.

Both Mladic and Karadzic face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

© 2011 AFP

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