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Karadzic Trial Delayed After Opening Defense Statement

  • Lauren Comiteau

The trial of Radovan Karadzic has been postponed for the second time since it started last year. Judges at the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal say they will wait for an appeals decision before hearing witnesses in the case.

For the second time since Radovan Karadzic's trial opened, witnesses traveled from Bosnia to testify against the former president of the Serb Republic. Now for the second time, they are being sent back home.

Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon says he regrets that:

"However, should the proceedings continue tomorrow with the hearing of those witness' evidence, and appeals chamber subsequently overturns the trial chamber's decision on postponement, those witnesses will have to return to the Hague for a third time and repeat their testimony," Know said.

Karadzic is being tried on charges he orchestrated a plan to ethnically cleanse Bosnia of its non-Serbs through murder, extermination, deportation and genocide. He has been charged with 11 counts for those crimes.

The ruling to delay the proceeding came at the close of two days of opening statements by Karadzic, who said he will prove in court that it was the Bosnian Muslims, and not Serbs, who led the country to war by trying to create an Islamic state. He said the Serbs' actions during the 1992-95 war were simply "responses" and "reactions" to the "state-sponsored terrorism" against them by Muslim leaders who were seeking independence and counting on the international community to come to their aid.

Karadzic touched on the some of the most serious charges in the indictment, denying Serb responsibility for them all. He called the notorious prison camps in Northwest Bosnia "investing centers of regular detention." Prosecutors say hundreds of non-Serbs were tortured, raped or murdered in them.

He defended the taking of U.N. peacekeepers hostage, saying they were combatants and not civilians and thus legitimate targets.

As for the 44-month-long siege of Sarajevo, Karadzic said it was the Serbs who were encircled by Muslims and under siege, not the other way around as prosecutors allege. He said the city was not under siege like Leningrad, but divided like Beirut. He pointed out on a city map the hospitals, schools, even a museum that he says were used by the Bosnian army for attacks, making them "first rate military" targets. And he says the Muslim side often attacked itself.

He spoke through an interpreter.

"These were war tricks aimed at bringing in foreign troops and foreign intervention," Karadzic said. "What the young Muslims wanted could only be achieved through terror or foreign intervention."

After several hours of speaking, Karadzic turned to the genocide charges at Srebrenica. It took him 10 minutes to dismiss them as another Muslim propaganda ploy.

About 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed there in the summer of 1995. The tribunal has already convicted a Bosnian-Serb general of genocide for those crimes, after presenting detailed evidence in court about the many who were bound and shot at point blank range.

But Karadzic dismissed these cases as "off the cuff trials". He said there needs to be more investigations to figure out exactly who died, how and where. And, as expected, he questioned the numbers.

"We know to this day that graves are being exhumed all over Bosnia-Herzegovina so somebody can be buried in July in Srebrenica," Karadzic said. "Of course the death of a single person is significant. Why exaggerate?"

Karadzic concluded his opening remarks by reminding judges that he is a politician and it is his job to make speeches and appease people. It is actions that speak, he said, not words. But when his trial resumes sometime in the not too distant future, he will no doubt be judged for both.

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