No systematic ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, claims Karadzic

Five-year trial of former Serb leader comes to an end

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic: claimed there was no systematic “ethnic cleansing” of the territory under his control during the Bosnian conflict. Photograph: AP Photo/Michael Kooren

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic: claimed there was no systematic “ethnic cleansing” of the territory under his control during the Bosnian conflict. Photograph: AP Photo/Michael Kooren

 

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has told a war crimes trial there was no systematic “ethnic cleansing” of the territory under his control during the Bosnian conflict.

Mr Karadzic made the dramatic claim in The Hague, at the end of a five-year trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. The biggest war crimes trial in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal for Nazi atrocities.

Taking advantage of his last opportunity to make a public declaration before a verdict is reached, Mr Karadzic portrayed himself as innocent, and said the court was a politically- inspired western creation that was biased against Serbs.

“It is the Serb people who stand accused,” he said. “There has never been a situation where so many decent, innocent people, mostly Serbs, are imprisoned outside their country, while the murderers of Serbs go free.”

Mr Karadzic delivered an often rambling rebuttal of the charges against him, frequently referring to himself in the third person.

“The entire case against me is false,” he said. “I really was a true friend to the Muslims.”

War crimes committed

Although war crimes were committed by all sides, Bosnian Serb forces are accused of the most horrendous. Among other crimes, Karadzic himself is charged with genocide over the execution of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Serb forces at Srebrenica in 1995, the three-year siege and shelling of Sarajevo and for conspiring to use mass killings and deportations to remove Muslims and Croats from Serb territory, a process known as “ethnic cleansing”.

“Under his command and oversight, Karadzic’s subordinates and those cooperating with them expelled, killed, tortured and otherwise mistreated hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats,” the prosecution alleged in its own closing statement earlier in the week. The prosecution has asked for a life prison sentence.

In his most startling claim on Wednesday, Mr Karadzic denied there had been any officially-sanctioned ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs at all.

“There is no example of a case when the official authority rounded them up and drove them out,” Mr Karadzic insisted. He claimed that most Muslims and Croats left Serb territory of their own accord, either to escape fighting or by volunteering to leave.

“In areas the Serb army took over, it never had any contact with civilians. The civilians had left earlier before the town fell,” he said.

In other cases, he claimed: “People reported in advance and waited for when they could cross over [the front lines]. It’s not that people were rounded up in their homes. That was not what happened. They placed their names on lists before they left, settled their accounts and were told the times of the buses.”

“They did leave their homes with a heavy heart but they left of their own free will,” Mr Karadzic said.

Where people were terrorised into leaving, Mr Karadzic claimed it was the work of “criminals or renegades, and people carrying out retaliation whose own homes were burned”.

He also claimed that the killing of inmates at concentration camps around the town of Prijedor were the fault of individual soldiers acting against orders. “There were crimes in Prijedor, but they were by a shift guard who abused his position. It stopped when his superior told him to stop,” he said. “My men were there to prevent crimes.”

Mr Karadzic is expected to complete his closing statement on Thursday. A verdict and sentence is expected next year. – (Guardian service)