Judges warn slow pace of Karadzic genocide trial could spell 2 years extra, verdict in 2014

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Judges warned Friday that Radovan Karadzic's genocide trial could stretch into 2014 — two years longer than expected — if prosecutors and the former Bosnian Serb leader do not speed up the case.

Karadzic's American lawyer said the landmark trial could last even longer than that, and urged judges to slash away a major part of the indictment if they want to rein in the case against the accused, who faces 11 charges, including two counts of genocide, for allegedly masterminding Serb atrocities throughout the Bosnian war.

The forecasts came at a hearing to discuss ways of speeding up what is shaping up to be the U.N. court's longest and most complex case, even as the Security Council is pressing the tribunal to complete all trials and close its doors permanently as soon as possible. Karadzic, who for more than a decade was a fugitive from justice and then boycotted the start of the trial last year, has refused to enter pleas but insists he is innocent.

Judges placed the blame for the slow progress largely with Karadzic, saying he often takes three times longer to cross-examine witnesses as prosecutors take to question them, and he peppers his questions with political rhetoric.

Karadzic underscored the core of the problem on Friday when he veered off into a discussion of the formation of post-World War II Yugoslavia, whose break-up with the fall of communism sparked ethnic conflict throughout the region.

"The history or name of the region is a good example," presiding judge O-Gon Kwon rebuked him. "You are needlessly using time making comments, asking questions that are irrelevant."

The judges made no immediate decisions on how to streamline the case.

Like his mentor Slobodan Milosevic before him, Karadzic is using his trial to cast Serbs, who are blamed for most atrocities in the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war, in a more favorable light.

"If we lay the wrong kind of foundation now, it is not only Serbs who are prejudiced, also our neighbors who will continue to believe the Serbs were wrong," Karadzic said.

Milosevic's trial at the tribunal was aborted in 2006 after four years when the former Yugoslav president died of a heart attack. Karadzic is apparently suffering none of the ill health that plagued Milosevic and appears to be relishing the opportunity to defend the Serb role in the conflict.

Yugoslav war crimes tribunal judges said at the start of the trial they expected to deliver verdicts at the end of 2012. However, Kwon said Friday that Karadzic is taking so long questioning witnesses that verdicts could be as late as April 2014.

The trial began in October 2009 but was halted almost immediately because Karadzic boycotted proceedings, saying he had not had enough time to prepare. The first witness was heard in April.

Prosecution attorney Alan Tieger said it would be wrong to drop charges against Karadzic, saying part of the reason his case was still continuing was that Karadzic was a fugitive from justice from some 12 years before he was finally captured by Serbian authorities on a Belgrade bus in July 2008.

"We're in this position because the accused was not available to have his case tried for so many years," Tieger told judges.

He urged judges to allow prosecutors to present more of their evidence directly to judges in written form as a way of speeding things up.

But Karadzic's lawyer Peter Robinson described that move as a "small drop of water on a fire" and urged judges to scrub out charges relating to Serb ethnic cleansing of some 20 Bosnian municipalities early in the war, which he said could cut a year off the trial. So far, testimony has concentrated on the siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

"If you think Sarajevo has been difficult, I can assure you that the municipalities will make the unwieldiness of the trial ... even more evident," Robinson said.

The Security Council set up the tribunal in 1993 as war still raged in the Balkans. But the Bosnia conflict ended 15 years ago and the council is keen to stop footing the multimillion dollar annual bill for running the court.

Prosecutors indicted a total of 161 suspects, the majority Serbs. So far 64 have been convicted and 12 acquitted. A total of 36 died or had charges against them dropped and 13 were sent back to the region for trial. Including Karadzic, 34 suspects are on trial or awaiting the outcome of appeals. Two — including Karadzic's former military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic — are still on the run.