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Genocide trial begins, Karadzic fails to show up

U.N. prosecutors open their case against former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic by playing recordings of him  urging the destruction of non-Serbs.
Image: Radovan Karadzic
A security guard opens the suitcase of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in the Hague before Karadzic appears in court in March at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for alleged war crimes.Jerry Lampen / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Radovan Karadzic wasn't there but his words urging the destruction of Bosnia's non-Serbs rang out in a courtroom Tuesday from speeches and intercepted phone calls as U.N. prosecutors opened their genocide and war crimes case against him.

The former Bosnian Serb leader boycotted his trial for the second day, despite warnings from the war crimes tribunal's presiding judge that he could be stripped of his right to defend himself.

The trial promises to be the judicial climax of the Balkan wars of the early 1990s that left more than 100,000 people dead, most of them victims of Bosnian Serb attacks.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Alan Tieger called Karadzic the "undisputed leader" and "supreme commander" of the Serbs responsible for atrocities throughout Bosnia's brutal four-year war.

"(Karadzic) harnessed the forces of nationalism, hatred and fear to pursue his vision of an ethnically segregated Bosnia," Tieger said.

Prosecutors allege Karadzic was the driving force behind atrocities beginning with the ethnic cleansing of towns and villages to create an ethnically pure Serb state in 1992 and culminating in Europe's worst massacre since World War II, the 1995 slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.

Karadzic, who has submitted more than 250 motions to the court since he decided to represent himself, claims he has not had enough time to prepare for his defense, even though he was arrested more than 15 months ago and first indicted in 1995.

Judge O-Gon Kwon said he will consider imposing a lawyer to represent Karadzic if he continues to boycott proceedings. The case resumes next Monday.

'Physically annihilated'
Karadzic faces 11 charges — two genocide counts and nine other war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has refused to enter any pleas, but insists he is innocent. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Tieger played video of a notorious Karadzic speech before war broke out in which the Bosnian Serb leader predicted that Muslims would disappear from Bosnia.

"By the disappearance of the Muslim people, Karadzic meant that they would be physically annihilated," Tieger said.

He showed judges footage of skeletal Muslim prisoners behind the wire fence of a Serb-run detention camp and read from transcripts of intercepted phone conversations.

He quoted Karadzic as saying that Serb forces would turn the ethnically mixed Bosnian capital of Sarajevo into "a black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die."

The 44-month siege of Sarajevo have described living "in constant fear, day after day, for years, knowing that they or their loved ones were targets," Tieger said, before showing judges video of a young boy fatally shot by a sniper and Bosnian Serb forces targeting mourners at a funeral.

He said Karadzic and other high-ranking Bosnian Serbs engaged in a campaign to vilify Bosnia's Muslims and drive them out of towns and villages as war erupted in 1992. Non-Serbs in Bosnia were rounded up and incarcerated in a series of camps controlled by Karadzic's police and army, Tieger told the tribunal's judges.

"In the best of circumstances, detainees existed in dehumanizing conditions," Tieger said. "In the worst, all too frequently, detainees were subjected to beatings, rape, terror and death."

War survivors cram courtroom
Outside the courtroom, Bosnian survivor Esnaf Moujic said hearing the prosecutor recount the beginnings of the Bosnian war was painful, even though it told him nothing he did not already know.

"It is shocking to come here," he said. "You relive the images of how it was back in '92."

He also lamented Karadzic's absence.

"Again, it is Karadzic who is dictating what happens," said Moujic, 42, who fled the Bosnian town of Bratunac in April 1992 with his wife and child and now lives in the Netherlands. "He decided in 1992 and again now."

Dozens of other war survivors crowded into the courtroom's public gallery and other rooms set aside for them at the tribunal to watch the trial. Some traveled up to 30 hours on buses across Europe just to be at the trial.

Karadzic was arrested last year in Belgrade after 13 years on the run. When he was captured he was posing as New Age healer Dr. Dragan Dabic, disguised behind thick glasses, a bushy beard and straggly gray hair.

Tieger mentioned Biljana Plavsic as one of Karadzic's key collaborators. Earlier Tuesday, Plavsic — the only woman among the 161 people indicted by the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia — was released from a Swedish prison after serving two-thirds of an 11-year sentence for war crimes.

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