Karadzic declines to enter plea as war crimes trial opens

Other News Materials 31 July 2008 22:29 (UTC +04:00)

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic declined to enter an immediate plea as he faced his war crimes trial accusers for the first time in The Hague Thursday, dpa reported.

The 63-year-old, transferred from Belgrade in the early hours of Wednesday, was formally indicted on 11 counts of war crimes in connection with the 1990s Bosnian conflict, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

Alphons Orie, the Dutch judge presiding over the trial expected to last for many months, gave Karadzic 30 days to decide a plea at the initial hour-long hearing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The trial was adjourned until August 29.

Karadzic, shaved clean of the bushy beard he had grown during 13 years on the run and clad in a smart blue suit, was polite throughout the hearing and showed none of the defiance and bombast that former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic had shown to the court.

Looking tired, thinner and older, Karadzic smiled and said he would represent himself throughout the proceedings, although he said he had what he called an "invisible adviser".

The indictment included one count of genocide, one of complicity of genocide, five of crimes against humanity, and four of war crimes, including involvement in an attempt to destroy in whole or in part the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat ethnic groups during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said the indictments would be amended, and Karadzic said he wanted more time to study any new version.

Asked to verify his identity and last adress, Karadzic said his official address was with his wife in the city of Pale. "But if you were asking about my unofficial address, then I can tell you that that is in Belgrade."

Karadzic smiled for the first time when Judge Orie asked him if all of his family had been informed about he had been transferred to the Netherlands. "I think practically everyone knows that I have been brought to the Netherlands," he said.

Insisting he would defend himself, Karadzic said: "I will defend myself, the way that I defend myself in all situations. I will inform the court of the many mistakes and irregularities, like the mistaken date of my arrest."

He claimed that under the Dayton accord which ended the Bosnian war and brokered by former US assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke, an agreement was made that he would not be brought to trial if and when he pulled back from public life.

Judge Rie cut Karadzic short when the latter tried to read a prepared four-page statement about this, and said he should send the information to the court in writing.

Karadzic also insisted he had been "illegally arrested by private persons," in Belgrade, did not have access to his phone and was not brought before the court until after 74 hours.

"This is a matter of life and death. If Holbrooke wants to have me dead, and if his arm is so very long, then I want to know if his arm can also reach me here," Karadzic said.

Judge Orie recommended Karadzic to address the issue of safety and security directly with the court registrar who was responsible for such matters.