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Serb general Mladic to boycott war crimes court

Frame grab of former Bosnian Serb military commander Mladic appearing in court in the Hague
Frame grab of former Bosnian Serb military commander Mladic appearing in court in the Hague

By Ivana Sekularac and Aaron Gray-Block

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Former Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic will boycott the U.N. war crimes court, where he is scheduled to enter a plea on Monday against charges of genocide during the Bosnian war, his lawyer said on Sunday.

Arrested in May after 16 years on the run, Mladic formally was charged by the Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague last month when the defiant general rejected war crimes charges against him as "obnoxious" and "monstrous."

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 69-year-old career soldier is due to enter the plea after refusing to do so last month, but Belgrade-based attorney Milos Saljic said Mladic would boycott the hearing to demand that he be represented by his own defense lawyers.

"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.

If Mladic boycotts the hearing or refuses to enter a plea at Monday's hearing, judge Alphens Orie will likely enter one of "not guilty" for him.

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.

"The tribunal has no official indication or confirmation that Mladic is not going to appear so I am unable to comment," court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said.

Mladic, who has said he was only defending his country and people during the 1992-5 Bosnia war, has lodged a list of preferred defense lawyers with the court, including Saljic and a Russian lawyer, but the tribunal is still verifying the qualifications and eligibility of the attorneys.

Court-appointed lawyer Aleksandar Aleksic, who represented Mladic at his first hearing, will represent him on Monday.

Mladic is accused in connection with 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.

Hague prosecutor Serge Brammertz has said Mladic used his power to commit brutal atrocities and must answer for it, but Serb nationalists believe Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.