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Ratko Mladic genocide trial suspended indefinitely (+video)

Ratko Mladic, a former Bosnian Serb military chief, won an indefinite suspension of his war crimes trial in the Hague because prosecutors failed to disclose documents to the defense. 

By Mike CorderAssociated Press / May 17, 2012

In this video image taken from ICTY video former Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic is seen on the second day of his trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands Thursday May 17.

ICTY video/AP

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The Hague, Netherlands

A judge suspended Ratko Mladic's genocide and war crimes trial indefinitely Thursday after prosecutors failed to disclose thousands of documents to the former Bosnian Serb military chief's defense team — a ruling that could delay the trial for months.

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Presiding judge Alphons Orie said he was delaying the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal case due to "significant disclosure errors" by prosecutors, who are obliged to share all evidence with Mladic's lawyers.

The announcement is a significant setback for the court in one of its highest profile cases, its final trial to focus on atrocities committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, which left over 100,000 dead.

Orie said judges will analyze the "scope and full impact" of the error and aim to establish a new starting date "as soon as possible." The presentation of evidence was supposed to begin later this month.

Prosecutors had already acknowledged the errors and did not object to the delay. Mladic's attorney has asked for a six-month delay.

Mladic is accused of commanding Bosnian Serb troops who waged a campaign of murder and persecution to drive Muslims and Croats out of territory they considered part of Serbia. His troops rained shells and snipers' bullets down on civilians in the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

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

Court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic told The Associated Press that much of the material that the defense did not get focused on witnesses who prosecutors had intended to call to testify before the court takes a three-week summer break beginning in July.

Prosecutors acknowledged that the error "could impact on the fairness of the trial to the accused," Jelacic said.

The tribunal published a letter Thursday from prosecutors to Mladic's lawyer that explained the missing documents were not uploaded onto an electronic database accessible to defense lawyers. "We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience that these missing materials ... may have caused to you," the May 11 letter says.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors wrapped up their opening statement in the trial by recounting in painstaking and chilling detail the systematic murder by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Mladic of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Bosnia's Srebrenica enclave in July 1995, Europe's worst massacre since World War II.

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