Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army chief, has been removed from the UN war crimes court at The Hague after refusing to enter a plea and disrupting the judge’s attempts to read out the charges against him.
Judge Alphons Orie of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is handling the case, later entered formal pleas of not guilty on behalf of Mladic to the various charges against him.
These charges include genocide, and relate to the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.
Having threatened to boycott his second hearing, Mladic did appear in court on Monday. But he spent several minutes demanding different legal representation and requesting a delay before having to plead.
“No, no, I’m not going to listen to this without my lawyer,” Mladic shouted as he removed his translation headphones when Judge Orie began reading out the charges.
“Who are you? You’re not allowing me to breathe.”
‘Smiling and gesturing’
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Rachel Irwin, international justice reporter at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, said: “The judge was really not willing to let him [Mladic] hijack the proceedings. He ordered him out of the courtroom.
“In the past they would have allowed more stalling for comments.
“It was clear from the beginning that Mladic was not going to co-operate today: he kept looking at the gallery, smiling and gesturing. But the judge made it clear that this is a court and we need to proceed and if you interrupt, then you have to leave.”
Mladic was represented by a court-appointed lawyer. Judge Orie said the court would look into allowing him to be represented in future by other lawyers of his choice.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Andrew Simmons, reported from outside the Hague court, said: “They are now waiting for a lawyer to be appointed and they say that the delay is from Mladic.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons updates from The Hague
“He is going to appoint a lawyer from Belgrade and another one from Russia. He could change his pleas, if he wished to, within three months.”
Tracked down, arrested and extradited from Serbia in May after 16 years on the run, Mladic, 69, defiantly rejected war crimes charges against him as “obnoxious” and “monstrous” when he was formally charged at the war crimes court last month.
Mladic is accused of orchestrating a campaign to seize territory for Serbs after Bosnia and Herzegovina, following Croatia, broke away from the Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
At least 130,000 people died in the conflicts that followed.
The former soldier has said he was only defending his country and people during the Bosnia war, which lasted from 1992 to 1995.
Serge Brammertz, a Hague prosecutor, has said Mladic used his power to commit brutal atrocities and must answer for it.
But Serb nationalists believe Mladic defended the nation and did no worse than Croat or Bosnian Muslim army commanders.