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23 Jul, 2008 22:17

Karadzic plans to defend himself in The Hague

The wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic, will defend himself at The Hague Tribunal, according to Karadzic's lawyers. Meanwhile, Russia says it hopes the trial will be objective and free of politics.

'Karadzic arrest part of pro-EU power grab'

Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic, says the arrest of war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic is all part of an attempt by pro Europeans to seize power in the country following the general election. Dacic says Karadzic was arrested by special forces and not by ordinary police.

Dacic is head of the Socialist Party, which is part of the coalition government in Serbia.

He was against the arrest of Karadzic, saying he would only accept his voluntary surrender.

“The extradition of Karadzic, and Zupljanin before him, is part of the turnover [of power] so I do not want the Socialist Party to be the target of political manipulations,” Dacic said.
He also stressed the arrest had no connection to the Socialist Party of Serbia entering the ruling structures. 

Dacic says it is important to let the Serbian public know for how long Karadzic has been in the country, under the surveillance of security services.

Serbia’s Deputy Prime Minister, and Interior Minister, also said the country’s police force played no part in the search and arrest of Karadzic, insisting it was done by the security services.

Serbian ex-military chief helped in Karadzic’s arrest?

Former Serbian military chief, Ratko Mladic, helped with the capture of Radovan Karadzic according to Britain's Daily Telegraph, which quotes German intelligence.

The report says it may have been part of an attempt by Mladic to escape his own arrest.

Mladic is also wanted by the War Crimes Tribunal for alleged genocide and crimes against humanity. He was in command of troops involved in the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995.

According to the German source, Mladic revealed where Karadzic was around two months ago in an attempt to avoid trial.

Cell ready for Radovan Karadzic

Bosnian-Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic is expected to be transferred to The Hague without delay. Prosecutors in Serbia have told the UN’s Yugoslav war crime’s tribunal to expect his extradition shortly.

The arrest of war leader Radovan Karadzic on genocide charges has been causing mixed reaction. Serb nationalists  have condemned the move as a cynical ploy to bring their country closer to Europe. The West has welcomed the detention of a war crimes suspect while Moscow says Karadzic must be given a fair trial in The Hague.

On Wednesday Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave his backing to the UN-sponsored trial of Karadzic in The Hague.  He called on the Serb authorities to “fulfill their commitment before the tribunal”.

“It is essential that the trial is impartial and not politicised,” Lavrov said, adding he hopes “it will be finished within the framework settled by the UN Security Council”.

“The Security Council has created a tribunal for former Yugoslavia, and the tribunal should perform the trial,” he said.

Karadzic’s supporters say he is being held illegally. His lawyer says police acted unlawfully during the arrest procedure.

Far-right activists tried to stage a rally in central Belgrade on Tuesday, shouting slogans that their government had betrayed Serbia. As police intervened, the demonstrators resisted and began throwing stones at the officers, and damaging nearby buildings.

The 63-year-old’s lawyer said he will appeal against the Serbian court's decision to detain his client.

Karadzic had been one of the International Tribunal's most-wanted men, following a massacre in Srebrenica in 1995, when 8,000 Muslims were killed.

It’s reported he was arrested late on Monday before being taken to a detention centre in Belgrade. However, Karadzic’s lawyer insists the 63-year-old was taken prisoner on Friday.

Bojan Brkis, a journalist from Serbian public television, said the details of Radovan Karadzic’s arrest were revealed during a news conference.

It was said that Karadzic’s last known address was in a modern part of Belgrade, where he, a psychiatrist by profession, practiced alternative medicine in a private clinic. He used fake ID and fake name.

“Agents of the security service followed him for several days and then, when he was leaving work and going to another suburb of Belgrade, they boarded a bus together with him and at an appropriate moment, when there was no risk for other passengers they apprehended him,” Bojan Brkis said.

He said journalists were shown a photograph of the former warlord, “showing a man with a long grey beard and hair, which doesn’t look like Radovan Karadzic, who we know from the 1990s”.

This was not an arrest many had expected, according to Rasim Ljalic, the Chairman of National Council for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal.

“Some recent information helped bring about the arrest. He had fake papers in the name of Dragan Dabic. He was very good at hiding his identity,” he said.

According to the Balkan Insight website, the suspect also gave lectures on spirituality. The publication says that a Belgrade magazine “Healthy Life” ran a series of stories signed by Dragan “David” Dabic, a doctor from Belgrade. The employees of the magazine told Balkan Insight that the man shown in the photograph displayed by the Serbian prosecutor looks exactly like the contributor.

Was Karadzic arrest legal?

Serbian agents detained Karadzic late on Monday and handed him over to judicial authorities, according to a statement by the National Security Council headed by Serbian President Boris Tadic.

The statement went on to say Karadzic was handed over to the investigative judge of the Belgrade-based Special War Crimes Court. No further details were offered.

However Karadzic's lawyer in Serbia, Sveta Vujacic, gives another version of the arrest.

“Radovan Karadzic was arrested on July 18 at 9:30 am. According to the law they should have immediately taken him to the detention facility, but they didn’t”, Vujacic said.

“He just said that these people showed him a police badge and then he was taken to some place and kept in the room. And that is absolutely against the law, what they did.”

Vujacic said Karadzic told him how he was treated after his arrest. According to him, he has been kept in an unknown place since Friday.  He also said he was bandaged soon after the arrest and that they took off the bandage only when he was transported to Belgrade.    

Under Serbian law, the authorities must first confirm Karadzic's identity beyond doubt before taking steps to hand him over to The Hague. This could take up to a week if he lodges an appeal.

Mixed reaction

While Bosnia is celebrating Karadzic’s arrest, a number of his supporters have gathered near a courthouse in Belgrade, where it’s believed he’s being held.

“It is the enemies of Serbia who accuse him of these so-called crimes – in fact he saved the Serbian people from extermination,” said Maden Abramovich from far right movement ‘Obraz’.

Dr. Haris Silajdzic, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina said: “Hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are Bosnians were expelled from their homes” under threat of death. So, for justice to be complete, we must erase the consequences of this genocide in Bosnia."

The Hague Tribunal’s Chief Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, is set to arrive in Belgrade on Wednesday. It will be the first visit of an official from the court since the new government was formed under pro-European Premier Mirko Cvetkovic. He replaced nationalist Vojislav Kostunica, who had been blamed by the West for doing very little to bring top war crimes fugitives to justice.

Meanwhile, Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, who met Karadzic in the early 90s and is currently an expert witness at the International Tribunal on a different case, says Karadzic is unlikely to get a fair hearing.

“The Hague Tribunal was devised back in 1993 as a primarily political institution that was meant to give a quasi-legal justification for western policies in the Balkans that were supportive of the Muslim side in Bosnia and later, of course, on the Albanian side in Kosovo. Karadzic in the end will be found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity – you name it – because the verdict is already written. I don’t think he will come out of jail alive,” he said.

Moscow’s objections

Moscow has criticised outside intervention in Serb affairs.  The Foreign Ministry says the former Yugoslav republics do not need foreign help in solving war crimes cases.

Spokesman Andrey Nesterenko says steps should be taken to wind down the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  He says Balkan republics are “ripe enough and capable of resolving and handing out verdicts in war crimes cases without outside help”.
“We regard the arrest as an internal affair of Serbia and the administration of that country. They need to make an independent decision on the fate of Karadzic, including his extradition to the Hague tribunal,” he said.

Karadzic’s transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia is expected to go ahead shortly.  

Serbia’s bid to join the EU has long been linked to the handover of war crimes suspects.

Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Belgrade was “very serious about our future in the European Union.”

“We are truly committed to peace and the rule of international law, be it when it comes to our cooperation with the Hague tribunal or be it the defence of our sovereignty over Kosovo,” Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Serbian authorities and police are preparing for possible hostile reaction by hard-line nationalists and the underground network that sheltered Karadzic for 13 years.

Hero or war criminal?

Karadzic has been indicted by the UN for war crimes in Bosnia and has been on the run for 13 years.

He was accused of genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal in 1995 and has been one of the world's most wanted men ever since.

Meanwhile, the EU has welcomed the arrest, saying it boosts Serbia's chances of joining the European Union.

“I think it's very good news,” said EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana.

The U.S. has also congratulated the Serbian authorities for capturing Karadzic. The Hague Tribunal has also welcomed the arrest saying Karadzic will face a fair and public trial in accordance with the highest standards of international law.

Radovan Karadzic became involved in politics in the late 1980s when he co-founded the Serbian Democratic Party (Srpska Demokratska Stranka).

In the early 1990s, as Bosnia and Herzegovina gained independence from Yugoslavia he declared the creation of the independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina – Republika Srpska.

Karadzic declared himself head of state and Sarajevo was named the capital.
Karadzic gained notoriety during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995 for the Srebrenica massacre, where 8,000 Muslims were killed. He is also accused of organising the shelling of Sarajevo. The siege lasted for more than 40 months and claimed thousands of lives.

Political commentator Slavenko Terdzic says the International tribunal in The Hague accuses only the Serbs.

“There is no direct proof of Karadzic’s actual involvement in any crimes. Let them present the proof, and if he's guilty, he'll stand before the court,” Terdzic said.

After the end of the Bosnian war in 1995, Karadzic went on the run. He was jointly indicted along with his associate, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, for alleged war crimes.

The U.S. announced a reward of $US 5 million for information leading to their arrest.

The international community has pressed Serbia to extradite Karadzic along with Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic.

Anatoly Pomortsev from the Russian business newspaper, RBK, says the arrest shows that the new government in Belgrade is trying to show it’s ready to cooperate with the European Union.

“As we know, arrests of the rest of Bosnian Serbs were among the conditions for tighter cooperation between Serbia and the EU. What we see is the newly formed Serbian power that is totally pro-European,” Pomortsev said.