THE HAGUE - The UN’s Yugoslav war crimes court has for the first time removed a judge from a trial after a leaked letter he wrote appeared to show he was biased, it said Thursday.

The shock removal of Danish judge Frederik Harhoff from the trial of Serbian ultra nationalist Vojislav Seselj came after his deeply controversial letter was leaked to the media in June.

“The Chamber found... that Judge Frederik Harhoff had demonstrated an unacceptable appearance of bias in favour of conviction,” the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) said on Thursday. “He is therefore disqualified from the case of Vojislav Seselj,” who is facing nine counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1990s Balkan wars.

In the private letter that Harfhoff wrote to friends and colleagues, he criticised a “departure from the previous ‘set practice’ of convicting military commanders”, said the court, citing arguments made by Seselj, who had sought the Danish judge’s removal over the letter.

Seselj said that the letter showed “a strong inclination on the part of judge Harhoff to convict accused persons of Serbian ethnicity”. Harhoff had also claimed that the tribunal’s president, US judge Theodor Meron, had pressured other judges to acquit leading Croatian and Serbian officers, possibly under pressure from the US and Israel.

ICTY spokeswoman Magda Spalinska told AFP that it was now up to the court’s vice president, judge Carmel Agius, to decide how Seselj’s case will proceed.

The leaked letter led to motions for cases in which Harfhoff sat to be reviewed, but no decision has yet been taken on those.

Serbian Radical Party leader Seselj gave himself up to the ICTY in 2003, and a judgement in his case had been due on October 30.

He is conducting his own defence against nine charges for the persecution of Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs and their expulsion from areas of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia between 1991 and 1994.