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Lawyer: Mladic to boycott court appearance

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic plans to boycott Monday's hearing at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, where he is scheduled to enter pleas to charges including genocide, his Serbian lawyer said.

Mr. Mladic is boycotting to demand the power to choose his own defense team, lawyer Milos Saljic said.

"Mladic has decided not to attend the court session to insist on his defense team choice," Mr. Saljic told the Associated Press.

The court in The Hague has asked for more time to vet the list of lawyers Mr. Mladic has submitted to verify their qualifications and eligibility. Mr. Saljic said that Mr. Mladic wants him and a Russian lawyer.

Mr. Mladic was extradited to the tribunal from Serbia on May 31 after being captured following 15 years as a fugitive. He is charged with orchestrating atrocities committed by Serb forces throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

Mr. Saljic said that if Mr. Mladic "is forced" to attend the Monday court session against his will, "he will certainly not enter his pleas."

According to the court's rules, if defendants refuse to enter their pleas, they automatically are registered as entering not-guilty pleas by the judges. It is unlikely that the court will force Mr. Mladic to attend the hearing.

Court spokeswoman Nerma Jelacic said the tribunal had not been officially informed of any planned boycott, "so preparations for tomorrow are ongoing as planned."

Mike Corder contributed from The Hague.

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