Judges at the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague have appointed a lawyer for Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, who is accused of masterminding the policy of ethnic cleansing that left tens of thousands Bosnian Muslims dead. Karadzic has refused to attend the trial, saying he needs more time to prepare his defense.
Saying it is in the best interests of justice, judges appointed a lawyer for Karadzic and adjourned his trial for four months to give the new attorney time to prepare.
Karadzic had asked to defend himself against the 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Karadzic says he is innocent, but prosecutors say he was the mastermind behind an ethnic-cleansing campaign that saw 100,000 deaths in an effort to redraw the demographic map of Bosnia to create an ethnically pure Serb state.
Judges ruled that Karadzic can continue to act as his own lawyer, but once his trial gets underway in March if he fails to appear or obstructs it in any other way the new lawyer will step in and possibly take over the case.
Either way, the court's assigned attorney will be present at the hearing, ready to step in whenever judges feel it is necessary.
Karadzic, who has said he opposes such a move, has a week to decide if he will appeal the decision and another week after that to file an appeal.
One of his legal advisors says they are considering the options and that Karadzic will respond to the ruling next week. The court is expected to ask Karadzic to name someone he would like to represent him.
If he fails to do so, they will choose an attorney for him.
Judges have urged Karadzic to cooperate with the new attorney and to focus on defending himself against the charges, rather than prepare political speeches that will be of no use to him during his trial.
The court postponed the resumption of his trial until March 1, 2010, when the new lawyer should be ready to take over if needed.