UN war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz wants ex-Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic's trial to be split, promising swift justice for the families of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.
Brammertz's office said it filed a motion before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague on Tuesday, asking judges to divide the original indictment for the 69-year-old former general into two separate trials.
The first trial would deal with the Srebrenica massacre alone.
Mladic is charged with genocide for his alleged role in the murder of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys over a six-day period at Srebrenica in July 1995, in Europe's bloodiest episode since World War II.
"Victims have waited 16 years for Ratko Mladic to come to The Hague. It is in the interest of justice, in the interest of victims that Ratko Mladic's trial start as soon as practically possible," a legal advisor in the prosecutor's office, Alexander Kontic, said.
"Two short trials instead of a long trial is the most efficient, the best way to manage this case," he told AFP.
Families of victims of the Sbrebrenica killings hailed the move, saying they were worried Mladic could die before facing justice, as happened in the case of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
After the first trial is concluded, the next trial would then deal with all the other crimes on the Mladic indictment, namely those committed during the siege of Sarajevo and in other Bosnian towns, as well as the taking hostage of UN personnel.
Mladic is charged with responsibility for the 44-month siege of the Bosnian capital that started in May 1992 and claimed some 10,000 lives. Forces under his command conducted a terror campaign against the city's civilian population, primarily through shelling and sniping.
The prosecution said in court papers that the split, with the Srebrenica case being heard first followed by the other charges, would "ensure the need to plan for the contingency that Mladic's health could deteriorate."
Mladic, known as the "Butcher of Bosnia", was arrested in northeastern Serbia on May 26 after 16 years on the run. He was transferred to the UN's detention unit a few days later and made his first appearance before the court on June 3, where he told judges he was "gravely ill".
He is currently facing 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Kontic said, "nothing indicates at this stage that Mladic's state of health is deteriorating."
"But," he added, "given his advanced age, we have to take into account of the fact that maybe, his state of health might deteriorate."
Splitting the case "would be really a good thing because the butcher enjoyed his freedom for a very long time and was arrested very late," Munira Subasic of a Bosnian organisation representing the women of Srebrenica said.
"The mothers and women are afraid that Mladic could die before he is judged like Milosevic" said Hajra Catic, who heads another organisation representing Srebrenica victims explained.
Milosevic died of a heart attack on March 11, 2006, in the UN detention centre in The Hague where he was being held just weeks before the end of his four-year-long trial.
After his death, critics said the ICTY had made a mistake in producing such a lengthy charge sheet against Milosevic.
But any trial of Mladic may still not start for months, and should it be split would see two separate judgements.