Karadzic denies war crimes and genocide

 

FORMER BOSNIAN Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has denied charges of genocide and war crimes and insisted he should be rewarded for trying to avoid conflict rather than condemned for atrocities including the Srebrenica massacre and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo.

Mr Karadzic (67) began his own defence yesterday at the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, and appeared healthy and relaxed as he read a statement that enraged Bosnian Muslims in the courtroom who had lost relatives in 1992-1995 war.

“I should have been rewarded for all the good things that I’ve done because I did everything within human power to avoid the war and to reduce human suffering,” said Mr Karadzic, who still sports a shock of thick white hair and occasionally smiled as he spoke with spectacles perched on his nose.

“Neither I nor anyone else that I know thought that there would be a genocide against those who were not Serbs,” claimed the man accused of bearing responsibility for the slaughter of about 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica and for the bombardment of Sarajevo that claimed some 10,000 lives.

Mr Karadzic said he was “a mild man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others . . . a literary man, a group analyst and a psychiatrist” who had “nothing against Muslims or Croats”.

“I never made any discrimination. My hairdresser of many years was a Muslim,” he added.

Repeating familiar Serb claims that were disproved in a previous case at the UN tribunal, Mr Karadzic accused Muslims of bombing a Sarajevo market and falsifying the number of victims to blacken the reputation of Bosnian Serbs.

“Sarajevo is my city, and any story that we would shell Sarajevo without any reason is untrue ... Every shell that fell in Sarajevo hurt me personally.”

Like his wartime ally Ratko Mladic, the former leader of Bosnian Serb forces who is also on trial in The Hague for genocide and war crimes, Mr Karadzic claimed that he protected Serbs from slaughter by Bosnia’s majority Muslims. “There is not a Serb or any man in the world that would convince the Serbs that there wasn’t a threat of a genocide against them,” he told the court.

Such claims appalled Bosnian Muslims, who watched in frustration for well over a decade as Mr Karadzic and Gen Mladic evaded capture and retained hero status among Serb nationalists.

Mr Karadzic was finally arrested in 2008 on a bus in Belgrade, where he was living as a new age guru; Gen Mladic was caught last year at a relative’s house in Serbia.

“He committed such evil in this country that it is hard to tell if it will have a future,” Kada Hotic, who lost 56 male relatives in the Srebrenica massacre, said of Mr Karadzic and Bosnia. She also mocked his claim to be a peacemaker and to have sought to lessen suffering in Bosnia.

“I lost so many family members only because they were Muslims in a territory that Karadzic desired to turn into exclusively Serb land. Is that peacemaking?” she asked.

“He really reduced human suffering, he reduced the suffering of thousands of people by putting them in the ground. He ethnically cleansed many places,” she added.

As Mr Karadzic opened his defence, the UN court also launched the trial of Goran Hadzic, the leader of Serb forces in Croatia during its 1991-1995 war for independence from Yugoslavia. Mr Hadzic (54) is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, and was the last indictee of the UN court to be apprehended last year.

Serbian EU accession bid Process stalls on refusal to recognise Kosovo

Serbia would rather give up its bid for European Union membership than recognise the independence of Kosovo, Serb president Tomislav Nikolic has said.

Senior Irish officials say they hope Serbia will receive a date for the start of accession talks during Ireland’s presidency of the EU in the first half of next year, but Belgrade’s refusal to countenance recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty threatens to paralyse the process.

“If they officially impose the condition to choose between the EU and Kosovo, we will abandon our European path,” said Mr Nikolic.

“At the moment the EU is keeping us at a distance solely over Kosovo. They can keep us at a distance for another 100 years but that will not change our position on our southern province,” he told Serbia’s Vecernje Novosti newspaper.

Prime minister Ivica Dacic insisted yesterday that Serbia was still fully committed to EU accession.