Karadzic Blames Islamic Militants For Violence

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Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic told the U.N. War crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that his people were defending themselves against Islamic fundamentalists. He is accused of trying to destroy the Muslim and Croat communities to create an ethnically pure Serbian state.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has finally given up his boycott of his own war crimes trial. He appeared today at the U.N. tribunal in the Netherlands to defend himself against 11 charges, including genocide and other atrocities.

As Teri Schultz reports from The Hague, Karadzic intends to prove he is no villain, but the victim of trickery and lies.

TERI SCHULTZ: It's only the first day of his opening statement, but Radovan Karadzic is already fiery, furious at charges he instigated tens of thousands of murders, rapes and acts of torture against Muslims and Croats. The world has it all wrong, Karadzic insists. It was the Muslims who tried to ethnically cleanse Bosnia and turn it into an Islamic state. He speaks here through an interpreter.

Mr. RADOVAN KARADZIC (Former Bosnian Serb Leader): (Through translator) Their conduct gave rise to our conduct and that is 100 percent true.

SCHULTZ: Referring specifically to pictures of emaciated Muslims behind wire fences, images that drew comparisons to Hitler's concentration camps, Karadzic said that video was staged.

Mr. KARADZIC: (Through translator) They were surrounded by barbed wire, but they were filming free people, and we suffered gravely on account of the fact that this image went all over the world.

SCHULTZ: Anything done by him or by Bosnian Serbs, he says, was merely to protect themselves against the Muslims and the other Bosnian minority, the Croats. It's clear Karadzic still feels himself a leader of Bosnian Serbs.

Mr. KARADZIC: (Through translator) I will defend that nation of ours and their cause, which is just and holy, and in that way I shall be able to defend myself too.

SCHULTZ: The fact that he is defending himself has caused numerous headaches for the court as Karadzic has consistently claimed he needs more time to prepare. It's why he was boycotting the proceedings up until now. If he has adequate time to prepare, Karadzic claims, he can win because he believes there's a telling sign the prosecution has a weak case. Speaking here again through an interpreter.

Mr. KARADZIC: (Through translator) The need to present me as a monster is due to the fact that they don't have any evidence. And it's going to be easier for them to prove their case if they portray the accused as a monster rather than as a real live person.

SCHULTZ: But outside the tribunal stood a small group of people in very cold weather who would definitely agree with the description of monster. Some held posters of loved ones still missing after the mass killings all over Bosnia. Maret Tehirovic(ph) says the Bosnian Serb leader should be facing many more than two counts of genocide.

Mr. MARET TEGEROVIC: Iliias Fotcha(ph), Vichigarad Theodore(ph), all down in genocide in Bosnia, Herzegovina(ph).

SCHULTZ: This sentiment is still running very high among Bosnians 15 years after the end of the war, says Merdijana Sadovic, head of the program following the war crimes trial at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Sadovic says while victims have been disappointed, the trial was postponed upon Karadzic's request.

Ms. MERDIJANA SADOVIC (Institute for War and Peace Reporting): This is still a very important trial and everybody in Bosnia will be watching it closely.

SCHULTZ: It could take the judges two years to come to their conclusion.

For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz in The Hague.

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