Prosecutors presented a plan Wednesday to the U.N. war crimes tribunal to hasten the trial of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, fearing his health is too fragile for a lengthy all-encompassing case that could drag on for years.
Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz sought permission to try 69-year-old Mladic first for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, for which he is accused of genocide in the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
Mladic would then later stand trial on charges linked to the 44-month siege of Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, for a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and for holding U.N. peacekeepers hostage.
He was arrested in Serbia in May after 16 years as a fugitive and extradited to the court based in The Hague.
Although his Serbian lawyer has described him as ailing and in poor mental health, Mladic has appeared mostly alert and feisty during his two arraignment appearances, arguing with the judge and trading ugly gestures with victims watching from the gallery behind bulletproof glass.
But in the court application, Brammertz said he wanted to take the case to trial quickly, partly because of "the need to plan for the contingency that Mladic's health could deteriorate."
Although the case would be split into separate trials, the prosecutors said they considered both to be equally important, and only were looking for a practical approach that could deliver a verdict quickly and "maximize the prospect of justice for the victims."
They said they would take roughly one year to present their evidence in the Srebrenica case alone. The defense would presumably have equal time. The prosecutors argued that the second trial could then begin while an appellate court considers the outcome of the Srebrenica trial _ appeals are almost inevitable at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.
Mladic refused to plead at his arraignment. A not-guilty plea was entered by the court on his behalf.
The prosecutors clearly were mindful of the unfinished trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose case ground on for four years. It was repeatedly interrupted by crises of the defendant's health until he died of a heart attack in his jail cell _ just weeks short from the trial's scheduled conclusion.
Radovan Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Bosnian Serb republic, was arrested in 2008 and has already been on trial for 20 months on charges all but identical to the allegations against Mladic. The two were originally indicted together, but their cases were split after Karadzic's arrest.
In July 1995, Bosnian troops under Mladic's command separated men and boys from crowds of Bosnian Muslims who had taken shelter under the U.N. flag at the safe zone of Srebrenica. In one horrific week, thousands were killed and buried in mass graves, while the women and aged were banished from the area.
The prosecutors said Srebrenica will be the shorter of the two cases since it covers a briefer period, the crimes were more concentrated, and "Mladic played a particularly central role." Some of his top officers already have been convicted for their roles in the massacre.
The second case involves the unrelenting bombardment of Sarajevo and a campaign of ethnic cleansing throughout Bosnia "resulting in the displacement and or deaths of many thousands of victims."