- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

THE HAGUE | Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, defending himself against charges of Europe’s worst genocide since the Holocaust, told judges Monday he was not the barbarian depicted by U.N. prosecutors, but was protecting his people against a fundamentalist Muslim plot.

During a four-hour opening defense statement at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, Mr. Karadzic barely referred to specific allegations of mass murder at Srebrenica, indiscriminate shelling of Sarajevo, the destruction of Bosnian Muslim and Croat villages or the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.

But he took personal responsibility for Serb actions, as Yugoslavia dissolved and the region descended into a war in which an estimated 100,000 people were killed, saying he was standing up for ethnic Serbs against Muslim Bosnians.

“I don’t want to defend myself by saying that I wasn’t important or that I didn’t occupy an important post while I was serving my people. Nor will I shift the blame to someone else,” he said. “I will defend that nation of ours and their cause, which is just and holy.”

He asserted that Bosnia’s Serbs were under threat and physical attack by Muslims, led by former Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who rejected power-sharing proposals and wanted an Islamic republic in Bosnia.

The Serbs “wanted to live with Muslims, but not under Muslims,” he said.

The image of the Muslims as victims was untrue, he said. The prosecution “is trying to make me out to be a barbarian attacking a good and friendly neighbor.”

The Muslims were the first to attack and their fighters “had blood up to their shoulders,” he said. “Their conduct gave rise to our conduct.”

Mr. Karadzic, 64, spoke forcefully, seldom glancing at notes, peering at the judges over the rim of his glasses or whipping them off to underscore a point. Seated alone at the defendant’s table, he looked more like the confident politician who delivered wartime speeches and negotiated with peace envoys than the gaunt figure who was extradited to the U.N. court in 2008 after 13 years as a fugitive.

He is the most senior person to appear before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who died in his cell before a verdict was reached.

Mr. Karadzic faces two counts of genocide and nine other counts of murder, extermination, persecution, forced deportation and the seizing of 200 U.N. hostages. He faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.

Prosecutors say Mr. Karadzic orchestrated a campaign to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities in eastern Bosnia to create an ethnically pure Serbian state. The campaign included the 44-month siege of the capital of Sarajevo and the torture and killing of hundreds of prisoners in inhuman detention camps. That violence culminated in the massacre of an estimated 8,000 Muslim men in one horrific week in July 1995 in the Srebrenica enclave, the worst bloodbath in Europe since World War II.

Munira Subasic, head of Mothers of Srebrenica movement, watched Monday’s hearing from the back row of the public gallery, separated from Mr. Karadzic by a few yards and a bulletproof glass partition.

“Again after 15 years he did not show any remorse for what he did. He stayed the same war criminal as he was before,” she said. “With his lies he betrayed his own Serbian people.”

Mr. Karadzic boycotted the prosecution’s opening statement last October, forcing a four-month suspension of his trial. On Monday he appealed last week’s court ruling to proceed on Wednesday with the first prosecution witness, and is seeking another four-month recess to continue preparing his case.

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