War crimes blamed on plot by Muslims
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- 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 Serbian actions, as Yugoslavia dissolved and the region descended into a war in which some 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 claimed that Bosnia's Serbs were under threat and physical attack by Muslims, led by then-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," Mr. Karadzic 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, he said. "Their conduct gave rise to our conduct."
Mr. Karadzic, 64, 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.
Munira Subasic, head of the Mothers of Srebrenica movement, watched Monday's hearing. "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 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.
First Published March 2, 2010 12:00 am