by DAVID AXE
The long, painful process of accounting for alleged war crimes stemming from the 1992-1995 Bosnian war continues. Two years after his arrest on a bus near Belgrade, 64-year-old Radovan Karadzic, former president of the Republika Srpska, stood before the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague last week to defend himself against 11 counts of war crimes, including two for genocide.
As leader of the self-proclaimed Serb state in Bosnia, Karadzic allegedly oversaw the killings of thousands of Bosnian Muslim civilians. Karadzic, who is handling his own defense after failing to show up for earlier trial dates, insists he is not guilty. The war between Christian Serbs and Muslim Bosnians was “just and holy,” Karadzic said. “I stand here before you not to defend a mere mortal of a man, but Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
The incidents pinned on Karadzic include: the 1992 mass executions of prisoners at Serb detention camps; the August 1995 artillery attack on a Sarajevo market that killed 43 people; and the execution of around 1,000 Bosnian Muslims detained at a Srebrinica school in July 1995.
Karadzic blamed the conflict on Bosnian Muslims, especially Islamic fundamentalists whom he claimed wanted “100-percent control of Bosnia for Muslims.” Karadzic labeled these fundamentalists “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Serbs were only “defending themselves from aggression and this is being treated as a crime,” he claimed.
To prove this, Karadzic showed photos depicting what he claimed was the severed head of a Serb soldier who was murdered following his capture by Bosnian Muslim soldiers. In describing the events that he said led up to the war, he listed the killing of a Serb wedding party and the April 1992 bombing of a Serb cafe by a Muslim.
The Serb siege of Sarajevo, one of the main actions of the war, was not a siege at all, Karadzic claimed. “The was city was not under siege. It was divided. Like Beirut. Serbs were actually under siege, partly surrounded by Croat and Muslim forces. Serb forces were present only to protect Serb-population municipalities.”
Karadzic portrayed the Sarajevo artillery attack as a hoax. “The market was empty and the bodies were brought in from battlegrounds and placed in the market. It was a stage-managed trick against the Serbs.” Besides, he added, Muslim troops endangered civilians by placing their weapons positions inside churches, schools, hospitals and museums. Karadzic said Muslim troops shot down aid flights into Sarajevo and blamed the attacks on the Serbs.
“All of the massive killings were war tricks by our Muslim enemies, aimed at bringing in outside intervention,” Karadzic said. “They shelled and killed their own people. We want the prosecution to prove it was committed by Serbs. We don’t have to prove we did not do it — they have to prove we did do it.”
“False myths will sow the seed of hatred in our children and grandchildren,” Karadzic said. The truth, he added, is that Bosnian Muslims destroyed Serb monuments, killed and raped Serb civilians and drove out the Serb population of Bosnia.
The prosecution alleged that Serb forces illegally detained Bosnian Muslims, but Karadzic insisted that purported detention camps were in reality “information/investigative centers.” More than 40 percent of detainees were discovered to be civilian non-combatants and released, he said. “Some elements of the army wanted to kill detainees, but they were threatened with disciplinary action from me.”
“I am not afraid of these proceedings,” Karadzic said. “But it may affect my health [because] I work all night [on my defense]. I don’t have enough time.” He asked the judges to delay the next trail date until May. The court agreed.
Karadzic’s trial is just the beginning of a long ordeal for the U.N. and those seeking justice for war crimes. Two men wanted for some of the most serious Balkans war crimes remain at large. Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb, is accused of complicity in genocide. Last week, Serb police raided a house belonging to a member of Mladic’s family. Mladic was not there, but police recovered around $100,000 in cash. The E.U. has told Serbia it will not be admitted to the bloc until Mladic has been found.
Croat Serb Goran Hadzic, former president of the self-proclaimed Serb republic inside Croatia, is wanted for the alleged murder of thousands of Croat civilians. His whereabouts are unknown.
Freelance reporter Andrew Balcombe in The Hague contributed to this story.