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Karadzic will defend himself

The former Bosnian Serb leader, facing war crimes charges, tells a tribunal at The Hague he was 'kidnapped.'

August 01, 2008|Tracy Wilkinson | Times Staff Writer

ROME — Thirteen years after he was indicted on charges of waging a campaign of ethnic genocide, Radovan Karadzic made his first appearance Thursday before the war crimes tribunal at The Hague, complaining that he had been "kidnapped" and vowing to serve as his own attorney.

The former Bosnian Serb leader quickly signaled the tactics he could use in court by attempting to shift the discourse from his own alleged crimes to what he claimed were assassination plots and other dark conspiracies.

His decision to represent himself also raised concern that the trial would suffer inordinate delays or that Karadzic, who is not a lawyer, might attempt to use the proceedings as a platform to air his political agenda.

Karadzic eluded capture for more than a decade until he was arrested by Serbian authorities last month. His arrival for trial before the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is widely seen as a historic moment in the pursuit of international justice.

Dressed in a dark gray suit and tie, his face cleanshaven and his silver hair trimmed and neatly combed, Karadzic, 63, strode into the courtroom, carrying a briefcase and flanked by tribunal guards.

Looking thinner and older than when he was last seen in public in the 1990s, a somber Karadzic declined to enter a plea on the charges against him, which include genocide, murder and crimes against humanity. He has 30 days to enter a plea.

Karadzic sat in the defendant's chair and listened impassively as Judge Alphons Orie read a summary of the chilling 11-count indictment issued against him in 1995. It describes actions by Bosnian Serb forces led by Karadzic, including the mass killing of civilians; the establishment of detention camps where Muslims and Croats were confined, starved and tortured; the forced deportation of thousands of non-Serbs; and the "wanton destruction" of non-Serb property.

He is accused of planning, instigating and executing a string of atrocities, among them the July 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the enclave of Srebrenica and the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, which the court called a "campaign of terror."

Significantly, the indictment also covers the last half of 1991 and the early months of 1992, before the war in Bosnia formally started but when Karadzic and his collaborators had begun fanning the flames of ethnic tension. They set in motion what would become a campaign to "cleanse" territory of Muslims and Croats to create a state of only Bosnian Serbs.

"Because of your position and power and the widespread nature of the events described in the indictment," the judge read, it is alleged that "you knew or had reason to know that Bosnian Serb forces under your control were committing these crimes and you failed to take the necessary and reasonable steps" to prevent the acts or punish the perpetrators.

Asked whether he had any comments, Karadzic alleged that there were "numerous irregularities" in the way he was apprehended and transferred to the court. Among other things, he disputed the day of his arrest by Serbian authorities, claiming he was "kidnapped" three days before the announcement of his arrest July 21 and held incommunicado in a secret location.

Karadzic repeatedly alluded to what he said was a plan to "liquidate" him and claimed that he had cut a deal in 1996 with Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat who helped broker an end to the Balkans war, to escape prosecution at The Hague in exchange for leaving public life.

"I must say that this is a matter of life and death," Karadzic said. "If Mr. Holbrooke still wants my death and regrets that there is no death sentence here, I wonder if his arm is long enough to reach me here." The judge quickly cut him off.

Experts say that if the trial is to move expeditiously, the judge will have to keep a tight rein on participants. The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, also said before Thursday's hearing that he would work "efficiently" and attempt to avoid delays.

But that worried Karadzic. "Speed matters in a showdown between gunslingers," he said, "but it is out of place in a court."

Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Yugoslavia and mentor to Karadzic, managed to drag out his trial at The Hague for years, repeatedly challenging the justices, attacking witnesses and making speeches. He died of a heart attack before the trial could end.

Thursday's proceedings were translated into Serbian for Karadzic, and he responded in his native language.

Early in the hearing, the judge asked Karadzic to state his name, address and birth date for the record. Karadzic said his "official" home was in Pale, the Bosnian village from which he directed the war, but that he also had an unofficial home in Belgrade during the time he went about disguised as an alternative medicine guru.

The judge, before setting the next hearing for Aug. 29, asked whether there were family or diplomatic representatives whom Karadzic wanted informed of his presence at The Hague.

"I don't believe there is anyone who doesn't know I'm in this detention unit," Karadzic said.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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