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Karadzic Denies Sarajevo Siege

As his trial gets underway, former Bosnian Serb leader alleges city was never blockaded.
By Rachel Irwin

Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, in his opening statements at the Hague tribunal, denied that the city of Sarajevo was ever under siege and said that any killings were the result of “war tricks aimed at bringing foreign intervention”.

But following two days of the defendant’s opening remarks, the trial was once again postponed while appeal judges considered his request to be given more time to prepare his case.

“Everything done in Bosnia was with the purpose of drawing NATO into the war,” Karadzic told judges, prosecutors, and a packed public gallery. “We can prove that [the Bosnian army] killed their own people.”

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic orchestrated a shelling and sniping campaign on Sarajevo that lasted for 44 months and killed about 12,000 people.

When the trial opened last October, prosecutor Alan Tieger said that Karadzic had “deliberately inflicted terror” on civilians and controlled the level of terror when it suited him politically.

This week, Karadzic, who continues to represent himself, contended that “10,000 humanitarian flights landed [in Sarajevo] without incident”.

“Thousands of convoys of aid entered through Serb territory,” he continued. “Is that terrorising a city?”

He added that it was a “truth set out in marble” that Sarajevo was not under siege.

Rather, he said, it was a “divided city”.

“This is my city, [and] I spent 50 years living in it,” Karadzic said as he pointed to various spots on a map. “Overall, Sarajevo was built on Serb-owned land and populated by Serbs.”

Earlier, Karadzic showed video footage which he said was from the day of the first Markale market shelling in Sarajevo, on February 5, 1994. The attack killed about 60 people and injured over 100.

The footage showed empty tables and a man walking with an artificial limb in his hand. Another image showed dead bodies being loaded onto trucks.

“There are no people or goods – then hundreds appear,” Karadzic exclaimed.

Further video footage showed a Ukranian United Nations soldier stating that the UN report on the incident was wrong, and that alleged Bosnian Serb responsibility was a “falsehood”.

The mortars could not have come from Serb positions, the soldier said.

Karadzic noted that Stanislav Galic, commander of the Sarajevo Romanija Corps in the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, was sentenced to life in prison by tribunal judges, in part for his role in the Markale attack.

“The [Office of the Prosecutor] has convinced … Muslims [that Serbs did this],” Karadzic said. “How can we have reconciliation? I will prove Serbs never did this.”

Karadzic’s opening statements came some four months after he boycotted his trial last October and the prosecution had to give their opening remarks in his absence.

Judges subsequently appointed Karadzic a standby counsel who could be asked to take over the case should the accused not turn up in court or otherwise obstruct the proceedings.

The standby counsel, Richard Harvey, was present in the courtroom this week, but sat with his assistant well apart from Karadzic and two of his legal advisers, Peter Robinson and Marko Sladojevic. There did not appear to be any interaction between the two teams.

As was the case in October, several victims’ groups sat in the public gallery. A small group of people seated in the front row identified themselves as family members of the accused, but declined to give further details to journalists.

The group waved and blew kisses to Karadzic as he walked into the courtroom.

Karadzic spent much time outlining the political events which he said led to war and also claimed there was never a plan to drive Bosniaks and Croats out of Bosnia.

“The only plan of the Serbs was to protect their property and identity,” Karadzic said.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Karadzic was responsible for crimes of persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

However, Karadzic contends that it was actually the Bosniaks and Bosnian wartime president Alija Izetbegovic who wanted to expel the Serbs.

In a slide presentation of what he called the "genuine indictment", Karadzic said that Izetbegovic and then Croatian president Franjo Tudman "forcibly took hold of Yugoslav territory" and "killed thousands of Serbs”.

He said that Bosniaks wanted Bosnia to be “100 per cent” theirs.

“This is what they wanted then, and what they want now,” he continued.

"My version is far more believable than the prosecution's version," Karadzic said.

He added that the prosecution was trying to portray him "as a monster because they don't have any evidence".

Karadzic also took issue with the charges in his indictment relating to the detention camps of Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm in north-western Bosnia, where hundreds of non-Serbs were tortured and killed.

“Trnopolje was not a camp but a collection centre run by refugees themselves,” Karadzic said. “It was a transit point for persons who had nowhere to go.”

He also showed a video which he said proved that the now famous images of emaciated prisoners standing behind barbed wire at the Omarska camp were staged.

The prosecution showed these photographs in their opening statements, as well as many others depicting the poor conditions in the camps.

“We suffered greatly because of those images,” Karadzic said, describing the images as “false”.

Towards the end of his presentation, Karadzic addressed the charge that he was responsible for the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995, where some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed.

The massacre has been classified as genocide by judges at both the Hague tribunal and at the International Court of Justice.

Karadzic said that he would prove that civilians were given permission to leave the enclave.

“The prosecution still insists on a forcible departure,” he said. “We say that’s not the case and it was never planned.”

He also implied that bodies were brought in from elsewhere to the enclave.

“Graves [were] exhumed in Bosnia so someone could be buried … in Srebrenica,” he said.

Karadzic said he would complete his own investigation of the events.

“Let us see…whether there was unlawful killing and to what extent,” he said. “Let it be established, once and for all, what happened in Srebrenica.”

After Karadzic had finished presenting his opening statements, he said that the indictment should be returned to the prosecution and narrowed down.

“If they don’t want to reduce the indictment, then it would be a good thing to have time and resources [before proceeding further],” he said.

Karadzic’s recent request for nearly four months of additional preparation time, due to a funding dispute with the court and an influx of material from the prosecution, was rejected by trial judges ahead of the start of the trial this week.

However, Karadzic appealed that decision and asked that the trial be put on hold until the appeals chamber decides on the matter.

Judges decided to grant the request – over the objection of the prosecution – and put the trial on hold again after Karadzic’s opening remarks which lasted two days. It is unclear how the long the appeals chamber decision will take.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.