Karadzic: Islamic militants behind bloodshed
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, charged with the worst genocide in Europe since the Holocaust, testified Monday that his people were simply defending themselves against Islamic fundamentalists who he claimed were seeking to take over Bosnia.
In his opening defense statement at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, Karadzic denied any intention to expel non-Serbs from their homes, and said the Serb objective was to protect their own lives and property during the violent 1990s breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
The Serb "cause is just and holy," Karadzic said as he began his two-day statement, relying only on sparse notes. "We have a good case. We have good evidence and proof."
Karadzic, 64, faces two counts of genocide and nine other counts of murder, extermination, persecution, forced deportation and the seizing of 200 U.N. hostages. He faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.
Prosecutors say Karadzic orchestrated a campaign to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities in eastern Bosnia to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. The campaign included the 44-month siege of the capital of Sarajevo and the torture and murder of hundreds of prisoners in inhuman detention camps. That violence culminated in the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim males in one horrific week in July 1995 in the Srebrenica enclave, the worst bloodbath in Europe since World War II.
Karadzic sought to trace the origin of Bosnia's full-scale civil war to the Muslims' rejection of all power-sharing proposals.
A core group of Muslim leaders in Bosnia was "plotting and conniving," Karadzic told the court. "They wanted Islamic fundamentalism and they wanted it from 1991."
Prosecutors are trying "to present me as a monster because they do not have any evidence" that I committed a crime, he said. "This indictment should not have been issued in the first place."
Karadzic is the most important figure to be brought to trial since former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who died of a heart attack in 2006 before his case was concluded. Karadzic, president of the breakaway Bosnian Serb state, negotiated with diplomats, U.N. officials and peace envoys; he appeared often in the media; and he set the tone and pace of the 1992-95 Bosnian war that killed an estimated 100,000 people.
In his statement, Karadzic portrayed himself in the pre-war years as a conciliator who had been prepared to compromise on Serb ambitions to preserve the Yugoslav federation or to unite predominantly Bosnian Serb territory with Serbia.
"The Serbs were claiming their own territories, and that is not a crime," he said. "It was never an intention, never any idea let along a plan, to expel Muslims and Croats" from the autonomous Republika Srbska.
Bosnia's Serbs "wanted to live with Muslims, but not under Muslims," when they would be deprived of fundamental rights, he declared.
Karadzic rarely referred to specific allegations in the indictment, concentrating instead on what he described as the victimization of the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia, which prompted them to take up arms.
He rebutted charges that the Serbs ran concentration camps where non-Serbs were tortured and killed, saying the camps were "collection centers" for refugees. "It was a transit point for persons who had nowhere to go because of the fighting going on around them," he said.
He also denied that Serb forces deliberately targeted a market during the siege of Sarajevo, an attack that killed 68 people.
The trial was being broadcast in Bosnia and aroused strong reactions among some Sarajevo residents who survived the siege.
"I don't believe The Hague can punish him enough. They should send him back to us here in Sarajevo so we can hang him here in the middle of the city," said Muhamed Dizdar, a merchant in the Markale market who was injured by the Serb mortar shell.
Karadzic said in the run-up to the conflict he repeatedly accepted peace proposals put forward at international conferences. He accused Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic of rejecting or reneging on them.
He charged that Serbs were the first victims of violence, killed by Muslims who "had blood up to their shoulders."
He said, "Their conduct gave rise to our conduct."
Karadzic's legal aide Peter Robinson told the judges he had submitted an appeal earlier Monday against Friday's court ruling denying Karadzic a delay in the continuation of his trial until June.
Karadzic, who is representing himself, boycotted the opening of his trial four months ago, claiming he had not had enough time to study more than 1 million pages of trial documents.
Accusing Karadzic of obstructing the proceedings, the judges allowed him to continue his self defense, but appointed a veteran British defense attorney, Richard Harvey, to take over if Karadzic was found to again hinder the case.
Karadzic has refused to cooperate with Harvey, who was in the courtroom Monday but not at the same table as Karadzic.
Karadzic's daughter Sonja, speaking to The Associated Press from her father's former headquarters in Pale, called the trial unfair because her father was not given enough time to prepare.
"What I know is that my father wants this process to start, but a fair process which he is entitled to. We are wondering who wants this process to be unfair, who is creating crisis after crisis in this process, who is afraid of Radovan Karadzic's well prepared defense?" she said.
The Karadzic trial is likely to be one of the last cases handled by the U.N. court. The U.N. Security Council has asked the tribunal to wind up its cases and appeals and close down, leaving future trials to national courts in the former Yugoslav republics.
The court, set up in 1993, has indicted 161 political and military officials, of which 40 cases are still continuing.
Two key figures are fugitives and could still be brought to trial in The Hague: Karadzic's former top general, Ratko Mladic, and Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)