LONDON -- Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic declared his innocence and argued that he tried to stop the violent 1990s conflict in his Balkans homeland as he began his defense against war crimes charges Tuesday before an international tribunal in The Hague.The ex-president of the wartime Republika Sprska faces 10 counts of genocide and related war crimes committed during the Balkan conflict that followed the collapse of the former Yugoslavia.
“Instead of being accused, I should be rewarded for all the good things I’ve done, namely that I did everything in human power to avoid the war," said Karadzic, 67, who looked relaxed but resigned with a professorial air. "The number of victims in our war was three to four times less than the number reported.”
Karadzic stands accused of aiding and abetting some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, committed primarily against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. He is charged with having a hand in the notorious killing of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica; in the “sniping and shelling to kill, maim, wound and terrorize the civilian inhabitants of Sarajevo” resulting in the death of thousands of civilians; and in the taking of hostages, including U.N. peacekeepers and military observers, to use as a human shields against NATO airstrikes.
“Everybody who knows me knows that I am not an autocrat ... that I am not intolerant, on the contrary I am a mild-mannered man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others,” Karadzic told the court as he denied the charges.
Explaining that the Serbs were forced to defend themselves against Muslim and Croat militias and anti-Serb extremists, Karadzic also claimed that many of the Serb attacks filmed during the war were staged. He cited pictures of a detention camp to display ethnic cleansing and the bombing of Sarajevo market in February 1994, which he said was exaggerated, “a shameless orchestration."
"Obviously some people got killed by that explosion," he said, "but we also saw mannequins being thrown on the trucks creating this show for the world.”
Shouts of “liar” from the public gallery filled with victims’ relatives and survivors were heard on the televised proceedings as he told the court he had tried to defend the civilians of Srebrenica and knew nothing of the killings there.
Karadzic reportedly has been granted 300 hours by the court for the conduct of his defense and has announced he will cross examine up to 300 witnesses. The trial is expected to last as long as two more years, according to BBC reports.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in 2008, where he was working as a New Age health guru, one of a notorious group of former Yugoslav leaders arrested for war crimes. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in 2006 during his trial in The Hague. Also facing charges are Ratko Mladic, leader of the wartime Bosnian Serb army, who is accused of crimes that include the killings at Srebrenica, and Goran Hadzic, former leader of a self-styled wartime Croatian republic, accused of murder, persecution on political, racial or religious grounds and forced deportation of minority ethnic Croats.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sits in the courtroom Tuesday on the first day of his defense against war crime charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Credit: Robin van Lonkhuijsen / European Pressphoto Agency.