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Karadzic Shuns War Crimes Trial, Tribunal Adjourns

A view of the empty seat where Radovan Karadzic was supposed to sit while attending the start of his trial at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

A view of the empty seat where Radovan Karadzic was supposed to sit while attending the start of his trial at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

The genocide trial against Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic opened at the UN court in The Hague with Karzadzic boycotting the proceedings to protest what he said was a lack of time to prepare his defense.

The prosecution was due to present opening remarks, but the proceedings were adjourned within 15 minutes due to Karadzic's absence.

Judge O-Gon Kwon told prosecutors they must wait until October 27 to start presenting their opening statement. He said the court would assign a legal team to Karadzic if he once again disrupted proceedings by not appearing.

"There are also circumstances in which a chamber can assign a counsel to an accused if his self representation is obstructing the proceedings of a trial," Kwon said.

Karadzic informed the court last week he would not attend his trial until he has prepared his defense. Earlier, in a letter to the court, he had asked to be given until June 2010 to prepare.

Faces 11 Charges

The 64-year-old Karadzic is the most senior Bosnian Serb official to go on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He was arrested on a bus in Belgrade last July after 13 years on the run.

He faces 11 charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war -- a conflict that killed 100,000 people and displaced some 2.2 million.

Radovan Karadzic
He has repeatedly refused to enter pleas but insists he is innocent. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Included in the charges are one count of genocide for the 1995 murder of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica and a second count of genocide for the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Muslim and Croat populations. The nine other charges include extermination, persecution, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Muslim and Croat survivors of the war revile Karadzic as the man whose political dream of creating an ethnically pure "Greater Serbia" triggered the Srebrenica massacre and the notorious campaign of sniper fire and shelling upon the Bosnia capital of Sarajevo during the 43-month siege by Bosnian-Serb forces that killed an estimated 10,000 to 14,000 people.

Outside of the tribunal in The Hague today, members of about 20 victims groups gathered around a banner with the names of 8,106 people who were killed at Srebrenica and the words: "Europe's Shame."

The protest included dozens of women who had been at a UN declared "safe haven" at Srebrenica in July 1995 when it was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces, who took away the area's men and boys to be executed in fields nearby.

'Not Optimistic'

Among the crowd at The Hague today was a woman named Nirmela, a member of an association called Mothers of Srebrenica.

"Today his trial starts, but we are not optimistic, because the trial will last for a long time and we heard he will not appear at the trial," she said. "We in Mothers of Srebrenica are angry about court proceedings like this because we want justice -- and get to the truth -- while we are still alive."

Meanwhile, there also has been strong criticism of Karadzic in Sarajevo. Marko Vesovic, a writer and poet who lived through the siege of Sarajevo, had been a personal friend of Karadzic during the 1960s when the two were students.

Vesovic tells RFE/RL he now thinks Karadzic is a "war criminal" whose rightful place is on trial at The Hague tribunal.

"[Karadzic] was an unimportant person -- a person who had never achieved anything. I remember well that he used to say he was the one of three greatest Serbian poets in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- not just in Bosnia and Herzegovina -- and that he also was one of the two best psychiatrists in Bosnia," Vesovic said.

"He was a do-nothing person from Montenegro who did not want to work hard. You need to work hard if you want to become somebody important. That's why he preferred to chatter about his own ingenuity."

Vesovic described Karadzic as a "natural born liar" whose lies before the war "harmed only himself" but who became dangerous once he began to wield power.

"In Sarajevo, I listened to him speak on Srna [Srpska Republika News Agency], and if I hadn't known what was going on around me -- if I hadn't seen pieces of brain scattered all over the road -- I would've been convinced that he was speaking truthfully and being falsely accused," Vesovic said. "That's a trait war Karadzic shared with pre-war Karadzic, a trait which by then had grown to monstrous."

Prosecutors Alan Tieger and Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff wanted to try Karadzic together with his wartime military chief, General Ratko Mladic. But Mladic remains on the run, one of only two indicted war crimes suspects still sought by the UN court. The other is Goran Hadzic, a former leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia.

Make Amends

Some see Karadzic's trial as a chance for the UN tribunal to make amends for the ill-fated trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, which dragged on for four years until Milosevic died in prison from a heart attack before a verdict was reached.

With the UN tribunal's rules of procedure determining that a defendant's presence in court is essential to constitute a fair trial, Uertz-Retzlaff suggested today that Karadzic's boycott is part of a strategy of delaying a verdict. She supports the idea that the UN judges should appoint an attorney to represent Karadzic if he continues his boycott.

"The accused's failure to attend would prevent the trial from commencing, and, taking his word and his previous submissions into account, it would actually be on hold for approximately eight months -- because two months ago he was speaking about 10 months he would need," Uertz-Retzlaff says.

"Preventing the commencement of trial in this manner would substantially and persistently obstruct the proper and expeditious conduct of this trial, and the only way to overcome this is the imposition of counsel."

Some legal experts say the transcripts of the prosecution's opening statement could be sent to Karadzic in his cell if he follows through on a threat to continue his boycott. Still, they say, his absence from later proceedings -- when witnesses testify and specific evidence is presented -- would force further delays if he has no other legal counsel.

With wire service reports

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