Former Serbian general and alleged war criminal Ratko Mladic [ICTY backgrounder, PDF; JURIST news archive], after previously refusing to enter a plea in any of the charges against him, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges linked to the execution of more than 30 Muslim prisoners in the eastern town of Bisina in July 1995. The presiding judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website], Alphons Orie, scheduled the pre-trial conference for March 26 with the trial to begin March 27 [AFP report]. The Mladic case [case materials] is expected to last years, and the court is anxious to avoid a similar delay in the legal process that allowed Slobodan Milosevic, Mladic's boss, to evade justice when he died of a heart attack in 2006 before his trial concluded. The defense team indicated it cannot meet the deadlines [AP report] imposed by the judge, who conceded they were not written in stone. Claiming to have never heard of Bisina, Mladic insisted he had nothing to do with it, but indicated he was in no hurry to start his trial.
Last week, a three-judge panel for the ICTY accepted a request brought last month by prosecutors to reduce the number of crimes [JURIST reports] they intend to prove against Mladic from 196 to 106. The request came days after the ICTY ordered a medical examination [JURIST report] of Mladic's physical condition in response to his absence from court the week prior due to illness. In October, the ICTY prosecutor refused to seek further appeal [JURIST report] of the tribunal's refusal to split Mladic's trial into separate actions: one for his conduct during the Srebrenica massacre [JURIST news archive], where approximately 8,000 people were killed, and one for all of his other charges during the Bosnian civil war [JURIST news archive]. Mladic made his first appearance [JURIST report] at the ICTY in June, contesting the charges while simultaneously asking for more time to review them, which he was granted. Before that, he had lost his final appeal in Serbia to avoid extradition, and was transported to The Hague [JURIST reports]. Serbian authorities captured Mladic [JURIST report] in May, ending a 16-year manhunt for the former general colonel and commander of the army of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mladic faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, including murder, political persecution, forcible transfer and deportations, cruel treatment and the taking of peacekeepers as hostages committed by Bosnian Serb forces under his command during the Bosnian civil war, which saw over 100,000 casualties and hundreds of thousands more displaced.