The former U.S. peace mediator for Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, has rejected as baseless Radovan Karadzic's claim that the United States had offered the former Bosnian Serb leader a deal that would spare him prosecution for war crimes.
In comments to news organizations, Holbrooke called Karadzic's claim false, saying he never would have made such a deal because it would have been unethical and immoral.
In his first appearance before the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Karadzic on July 31 claimed that Holbrooke in 1996 offered a deal under which Karadzic would withdraw from politics and not undermine the Dayton peace accords in exchange for the United States persuading prosecutors to drop his war crimes indictment.
"My commitment was to withdraw [from public life] and not to endanger, in any way, the implementation of the Dayton agreement, to withdraw even from literary life and any form of public life," Karadzic said in court.
He said the United States tried to "persuade the chief prosecutor to withdraw the indictment," but that then-prosecutor Richard Goldstone threatened to resign if that occurred. He also said he felt that "there was an intention to liquidate" him.
"This is a matter of life and death. If Mr. 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 Alphons Orie told Karadzic that the hearing wasn't the right time to raise the issue, but that he could present the court with full details of his allegation at a future date.
"Mr. Karadzic, apparently you want to bring to the attention of this chamber that some agreement, apparently between persons attached to states were made," Orie said. "Of course, the chamber is not aware of any such agreements. If you want to raise this issue, then, of course, it would be important for us to then have the full facts."
Karadzic To Prepare Own Defense
Wearing a suit and tie and once again sporting his trademark haircut, Karadzic's first appearance at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was in stark contrast to that in images released after his capture last week in Belgrade. He had been disguised in a bushy beard and long hair as he tried to pass himself off as an alternative-medicine healer.
As the hearing opened, Karadzic confirmed his identity and calmly informed Orie that he would represent himself throughout his trial. "I have an invisible legal adviser, but I have decided to defend myself on my own," he said.
Karadzic is charged with one count of genocide, one count of complicity in genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of war crimes in relation to atrocities committed against non-Serbs during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
Karadzic was informed of his rights and given the opportunity to enter pleas on all 11 counts relating to his role in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.
He is believed to be the mastermind behind the killing of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left more than 12,000 dead and 50,000 wounded.
Karadzic decided against entering pleas, and declined the judge's offer to read out the complete charges.
"I am not interested in having someone else read the indictment to me," Karadzic said. "I would rather receive the new indictment that has been announced and have sufficient time to study it and then have my initial appearance for that and enter my plea."
Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor for the court, informed the judge that an amendment to Karadzic's indictment was being prepared, but gave no information relating to the nature of the changes or when they would be ready.
Karadzic has 30 days to enter his pleas, and Orie scheduled a court date of August 29 to hear them.
Geoffrey Nice, the lead prosecutor in the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at The Hague, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on July 30 that he expects Karadzic's trial to be a lengthy one:
"It is obviously not going to be very short, but I suspect that the evidence against Karadzic, which is more focused, geographically and [time-wise] than the evidence on Milosevic and that may include evidence that is, in a sense, stronger than the evidence that was available for the Milosevic case," Nice said.
"It shouldn't be anything like as long as the Milosevic trial. The difficulty, of course, may be in the judge's managing of Karadzic if he chooses, as was said on his behalf, to represent himself."
Milosevic's trial ended without a verdict with his March 2006 death after nearly five years of imprisonment at The Hague.
Nice says Karadzic's trial may mirror that of Milosevic's in the defense's seeking "to prolong the trial by spending time on irrelevant matters. It may also be the case that the judges will now be well-equipped to deal with that and to shut him down and to keep the trial to strictly legal issues."
The former prosecutor says that he expects the trial to begin at the beginning of next year, as Karadzic will have to be given ample time to prepare his defense.