THE HAGUE: A strident Radovan Karadzic told the UN Yugoslav war crimes court on Tuesday he should be rewarded for doing everything to avoid war in Bosnia and insisted that no one predicted there would be genocide.
“I should have been rewarded for all the good things that I've done because I did everything within human power to avoid the war and to reduce the human suffering,” the former Bosnian Serb leader told the court in The Hague as he began his own defence against charges including genocide.
“Neither I nor anyone else that I know thought that there would be a genocide against those who were not Serbs,” said Karadzic, who is notably charged with masterminding Europe's worst post-World War II massacre in the town of Srebrenica.
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.
His words were met with incredulous cries and snickers from the packed public gallery, where several survivors and victims' relatives sat.
One victim, Fikret Alic, a former Muslim prisoner who featured in an iconic picture of emaciated prisoners in a Bosnian Serb concentration camp in 1992 said: “It is very humiliating for us to hear his speech.”
”The whole world has seen what happened in Bosnia,” he told AFP.
Karadzic, 67, is accused of being one of the masterminds of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war in the 1990s that claimed more than 100,000 lives and uprooted over two million from their homes. He faces a life sentence if convicted.
“I am a mild man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others,” Karadzic, a published poet and trained psychiatrist before the war, told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
“I have nothing against Muslims or Croats” Karadzic added, claiming that even his hairdresser before the war was a Muslim.
But, he said, Bosnia's Serbs believed a genocide was planned against them by the Muslims and Croats who were arming themselves after Yugoslavia split in 1991.
“It was no secret, we could see it. We were pushed into a corner.”As at the start of his trial in October 2009, Karadzic told judges that the atrocities blamed on Bosnian Serbs including the killings at Srebrenica were “lies, propaganda and rumours”.
Brought to court after his arrest on a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic is charged with masterminding the murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys by forces loyal to him in the eastern Bosnian enclave in July 1995.
Over the space of a few days, thousands were systematically executed and dumped into mass graves.
Prosecutors say Karadzic, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Mladic acted together to “cleanse” Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Bosnia's Serb-claimed territories after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Milosevic died midway through his own trial for genocide and war crimes in March 2006.
Karadzic is also charged for his alleged role in the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo between May 1992 and November 1995 in which 10,000 people died under terrifying sniper and artillery fire.
Indicted by the ICTY in 1995, Karadzic spent 13 years on the run before being arrested in Belgrade where he practised as a doctor of alternative medicine.
Judges dropped one genocide count in June, citing a lack of evidence to substantiate the charge for killings by Bosnian Serb forces in Bosnian towns from March to December 1992.
Karadzic, who has been allotted 300 hours for his defence, has said he will call 300 witnesses to testify on his behalf.
Karadzic 'trying to fool the world'
Speaking from Sarajevo, where the atrocities happened 17 years ago, embittered relatives of victims at Srebrenica accused Karadzic of trying to fool the world.
“He committed such evil in this country that it is hard to tell if it will have a future, if we will ever return to a normal life,” Kada Hotic of the Mothers of Srebrenica association told AFP.
“He is trying to fool the world.” Russian colonel Andrei Demurenko, the first witness to testify in Karadzic's defence, told the court that a shell fired at Sarajevo's Markale market in an infamous August 28, 1995, attack could not have been fired from Serb positions.
Demurenko, the UN chief of staff in Sarajevo from January to December 1995, said the explosion that killed 43 people was not caused by shelling but “by a terrorist act” committed from inside Sarajevo.
Tuesday is a historic day for the ICTY as it also saw the start of the trial of Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic, the last of 161 war crimes suspects to be handed over to the court.