The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal dropped one genocide charge against Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic on Thursday while maintaining 10 other charges against the jailed warlord.
In dropping the charge, the court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that he intended to wipe out other ethnic groups in the early stages of Bosnia's 1992-95 civil war.
The ruling, posted on the U.N.-sponsored court's website, comes as Karadzic prepares for the defense phase of the case against him in The Hague, Netherlands. The remaining charges include one other count of genocide in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, as well as murder, repression, deportation and other war crimes.
"The Chamber found that the evidence, even if taken at its highest, does not reach the level from which a reasonable trier of fact could infer that genocide occurred," the court said of the prosecution's case on Count 1, which alleged that the psychiatrist-turned-nationalist was responsible for mass killings and expulsions of Muslims and Croats from cities throughout Bosnia in 1992.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicted Karadzic in July 1995, shortly after the massacre at Srebrenica, where about 7,000 Muslim men and boys were separated from their families and gunned down by firing squads, allegedly on the orders of Karadzic and Bosnian Serb army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic.
Both Mladic and Karadzic evaded capture for years after the indictment was issued. Karadzic was caught and extradicted to The Hague in 2008, and the war crimes trial against him began a year later. Prosecutors completed their presentation of evidence in May, and the defense phase begins in October.
Karadzic, 67, had filed a motion with the court for dismissal of all 11 counts against him, but the tribunal ruled that sufficient evidence had been presented on the other 10 charges. He faces a maximum of life imprisonment if convicted.
Mladic, 70, was captured in May 2011 after 16 years on the run. His war crimes trial began last month.
Karadzic and Mladic are among 35 Balkan war crimes suspects detained at The Hague, and their trials are being closely watched by survivors of the conflict that took at least 100,000 lives.
Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian nationalist blamed for masterminding the atrocities in a bid to "ethnically cleanse" territory claimed as Serb heritage, died in The Hague prison in 2006 midway through his trial.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic at the opening of his war crimes trial in The Hague in November 2009. Credit: Michael Kooren / Pool