LONDON -- The war-crimes trial of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader during the wars of the 1990s, was suspended Thursday after the judge declared that the prosecution had failed to hand over evidence to the defense.
Presiding Judge Alfons Orie told the court in The Hague that "in light of the prosecution's significant disclosure errors ... the chamber hereby informs the parties that it has decided to suspend the start of the presentation of evidence." The trial had begun Wednesday.
The announcement came after Peter McCloskey, speaking for the prosecution, wound up his opening statement before the International Criminal Tribunal. He had outlined what prosecutors say are the crimes that Mladic, as commander of the Bosnian Serb army, committed during the 1992-95 war that accompanied the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The prosecution has acknowledged it failed to hand over full evidence to the defense as required by the court rules. The defense had requested a six-month delay.
"The chamber is still in the process of gathering information as to the scope and the full impact of this error," said Orie, adding that a new start date for the trial would be announced "as soon as possible."
[Updated May 17, 11:18 a.m.: In their motion requesting a delay, defense attorneys Branko Lukic and Miodrag Stojanovic complained that several groups of documents -- some related to the trial of Mladic ally Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs’ political leader during the war -- were unavailable to them until late April and others were still missing.
“The defense has been unduly deprived of access to the key documents that the prosecution intends to present in their case against Mr. Mladic for many months,” they wrote.
Prosecutors McCloskey and Dermot Groome conceded in a responding statement that not all of the documents relating to the Karadzic case had been revealed to the defense, citing oversights and the sheer volume of material that 20 aides had been sifting through. “To date over 1.4 million pages contained in over 80,000 documents have been the subject of review,” they said.]
Mladic faces 11 charges of war crimes, including genocide, murder, persecution, terrorism and hostage-taking. The charges stem in part from the massacre in Srebrenica, where he and his troops are accused of murdering about 8,000 men and boys after taking over the town. The charges also are linked to the 3 1/2-year siege of Sarajevo, during which his troops continuously bombarded the city with mortar and sniper fire.
He denies the charges, calling them "monstrous," but has refused to enter a plea. A not guilty plea has been entered on his behalf.
In his opening remarks, McCloskey gave a chilling portrayal, with films and passages from witness statements, of the Bosnian Serb army as intent on driving out the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The court saw clips from a film of Mladic and his troops entering the deserted town of Srebrenica in July 1995, with the commander announcing to the camera in reference to Muslims: "We give this town to the Serb people as a gift. ... The time has come to take revenge on the Turks in this region."
McCloskey told the court that "over the next five days Mladic's troops captured and systematically murdered thousands of Srebrenica men and boys."
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: In an image taken from video, former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic is seen Thursday on the second day of his trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Credit: Associated Press / ICTY