Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Genocide trial: Karadzic says he's a mild man

THE HAGUE - Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic cast himself as a "mild man, a tolerant man" who tried to prevent war and then worked to reduce casualties on all sides in the bloody Bosnian conflict, as he opened his defence in his genocide trial.

His words brought snorts of derision and cries of "He's lying! He's lying!" from Muslim survivors of the 1992 to 1995 war watching from the public gallery.
Karadzic, who faces charges including genocide and crimes against humanity, was given 90 minutes to make a statement on his role in the war that left an estimated 100,000 dead. The statement was not made under oath, meaning he could not be cross-examined by prosecutors.
Looking relaxed and dressed in a black suit, light blue shirt and striped blue tie, Karadzic projected an image of a schoolmaster, with his glasses perched precariously on his nose, lecturing the court and occasionally smiling.
A former psychologist and poet, Karadzic told judges he was a "physician and literary man" who was a reluctant player in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.
"Instead of being accused of the events in our war, I should be rewarded for all the good things I have done," he said through a court interpreter. "I did everything humanly possible to avoid the war... I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians."
Prosecutors have painted a starkly different picture of him during months of witness testimony, portraying him as a political leader who masterminded Serb atrocities throughout the war, from campaigns of persecution and murder of Muslims and Croats in 1992 to the conflict's bloody climax, the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the United Nations-protected Srebrenica enclave.
Karadzic, 67, denied that portrait of him. "Everybody who knows me knows I am not an autocrat, I am not aggressive, I am not intolerant.
"On the contrary, I am a mild man, a tolerant man with great capacity to understand others.
"I have nothing against Muslims or Croats," he told judges, claiming even his hairdresser was a Muslim before the war.
But he said Bosnia's Serbs believed a genocide was planned against them by the Muslims 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."
Karadzic is to call witnesses including Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who was Greece's foreign minister during the Bosnian War. He has said Mr Papoulias' testimony could prove his innocence in the shelling of Sarajevo's Markale market on Feb 5, 1994, in which 67 people died.
Karadzic boycotted the start of his long-running genocide trial in October 2009, saying he had not been given enough time to prepare. The first witness did not testify until April 2010 and prosecutors rested their case on May 25 this year.
Just over a month later, judges acquitted Karadzic of one count of genocide, saying prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to establish that a campaign of murder and persecution early in the Bosnian War amounted to genocide. Prosecutors have appealed against the acquittal.
Karadzic still faces 10 more charges, including one genocide count relating to the Srebrenica massacre. His wartime military chief, Ratko Mladic, is on trial in The Hague for the same charges. Both face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.