UN court rejects Mladic bid to replace judge

The president of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on Tuesday rejected a bid by former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic to replace the Dutch presiding judge in his trial and delay the start of the case.

Mladic's long-awaited trial on 11 charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.

The 70-year-old former general argued that judge Alphons Orie is biased because of his Dutch nationality in charges linked to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which Dutch U.N. peacekeepers have been accused of not doing enough to prevent the slaying by Serb forces of 8,000 Muslim men. They also cited the fact that he has presided over trials that convicted some of Mladic's former subordinates.

Tribunal President, Judge Theodor Meron, rejected the appeal, saying in a written ruling he was "not satisfied that Mladic has demonstrated that a reasonable observer, properly informed, would reasonably apprehend bias."

Mladic also filed a motion late Monday seeking a six-month delay in the start of his case, arguing that prosecution lawyers had not properly disclosed all evidence to his defense team.

"This filing is made urgently due to the impending trial start date and the injustice and undue prejudice that would result to our client, Mr. Mladic, arising out of the late disclosure of materials if forced to proceed to trial," the motion said.

The court has not yet ruled on the motion.

Mladic faces 11 charges, including two counts of genocide, alleging that he orchestrated atrocities by Serb fighters throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

He has refused to enter pleas but denies wrongdoing. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

The frail former general was arrested last year in Serbia after 15 years as a fugitive. He is the last major player from the Bosnian conflict to go on trial at the U.N. court.

"Victims have waited nearly two decades to see Ratko Mladic in the dock," said Param-Preet Singh, senior counsel in the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "His trial should lay to rest the notion that those accused of atrocity crimes can run out the clock on justice."