United Nations

Serbian ex-leader Radovan Karadzic tells UN court he tried to stop war

Serbian leader in dock for alleged war crimes in Bosnia 'should be rewarded' for the good he did

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 4:55am

A strident Radovan Karadzic told the UN Yugoslav war-crimes court yesterday he should be rewarded for trying to avoid war in Bosnia and said no one thought there would be a genocide.

His claims brought snorts of derision from Muslim survivors of the war watching from the public gallery, and cries of: "He's lying!"

Karadzic, who faces charges including genocide and crimes against humanity, was given 90 minutes to make a statement on his role in the war. The statement was not made under oath, meaning Karadzic could not be cross-examined by prosecutors.

"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 the human suffering," the former Bosnian Serb leader told the court in The Hague as he began his defence.

"Neither I nor anyone else that I know thought that there would be a genocide against those who were not Serbs," said Karadzic, who is notably charged with masterminding Europe's worst post-war massacre, in the town of Srebrenica.

One victim, Fikret Alic, a former Muslim prisoner who featured in a famous picture of emaciated prisoners in a Bosnian Serb concentration camp in 1992, said: "It is very humiliating for us to hear his speech. The whole world has seen what happened in Bosnia."

Karadzic, 67, is accused of being one of the leaders behind ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war in the 1990s that claimed over 100,000 lives and uprooted over two million from their homes. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

"I am a mild man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others," Karadzic, a published poet and trained psychiatrist before the war, told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

"I have nothing against Muslims or Croats" Karadzic said.

But, he said, Bosnia's Serbs believed a genocide was planned against them by the Muslim and Croat population, who were arming themselves after Yugoslavia split in 1991. "It was no secret, we could see it. We were pushed into a corner."

Brought to court after his arrest in 2008, Karadzic is charged with being responsible for the murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys by forces loyal to him in the eastern Bosnian enclave in July 1995.

The massacre was carried out by Bosnian Serb troops under the command of wartime general Ratko Mladic, who overran Dutch UN peacekeepers meant to be protecting the enclave.

Over a few days, thousands were systematically executed and dumped into mass graves.

Prosecutors say Karadzic, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Mladic acted together to "cleanse" Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Bosnia's Serb-claimed territories after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

Milosevic died midway through his own trial for genocide and war crimes in March of 2006.

Karadzic has also been charged for his alleged role in the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo between May 1992 and November 1995, in which 10,000 people died under sniper and artillery fire.

Like Mladic, he has also been charged for his alleged role in taking hostage UN observers and peacekeepers to use them as human shields during a Nato bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb targets in 1995.

Indicted by the court in 1995, Karadzic spent 13 years on the run before being arrested in 2008 in Belgrade, where he practised alternative medicine.

Karadzic, who has been allotted 300 hours for his defence, has said he would call 300 witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Additional reporting by Associated Press