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3 Aug, 2008 10:11

Karadzic to enter plea within 30 days

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has appeared before The Hague War Crimes Tribunal for the first time after 13 years on the run. He asked for more time to study the 11 charges brought against him.

If convicted, the 63-year-old faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Judge Alphons Orie presented the indictments. However, it turned out that the prosecution is planning to make amendments to one of the charges. The judge urged prosecutors to provide the new data as soon as possible.

The charges relate to events between 1991 and 1995, including the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

Karadzic, for his part, said the court had been misinformed about the date he was arrested, following claims of irregularities over his detention. He spoke of numerous violations of his rights during his arrest.

“In Belgrade I was arrested illegally,” he said. “For three days I was kept by unidentified people in an unidentified place with no rights to make a telephone call or even send a text message to my friends.”

On Friday, the former Bosnian Serb leader submitted a four-page appeal to the tribunal.

Karadzic was extradited from Serbia to the Netherlands on Wednesday morning. The night before that, thousands of his supporters took to the streets of Belgrade to protest against his detention and extradition.

Meanwhile, the former Foreign Minister of Serbia says he did see a deal agreed between Radovan Karadzic and the U.S., according to reports in Serbia. Aleksa Bukha says he personally heard U.S. ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, promise Karadzic he would escape prosecution if he left politics.

“The deal was struck in July 1996 in Belgrade between Holbrook and Karadzic. Dr. Karadzic had to quit all his official posts to escape The Hague Tribunal. At the talks I represented the Republika Srpska. Also there was the Bosnian  Serb politician Slobodan Krajišnik, Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Milutinovic, who was then Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslavia. When the text of the agreement was ready I asked Mr Holbrook what was next. He said that the Democratic Party of Serbia would win the election and Karadzic wouldn’t be handed over to the Hague. That was a verbal agreement not written in the document. The document simply agreed Karadzic would leave all his posts. I believe that Mr. Karadzic has or had this document,” Alexa Buha, Foreign Minister Of Republica Srpska in 1994-1998, said.

Mixed reaction

Meanwhile, members of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” – an association of relatives of the Bosnian Muslim men and boys who were killed in 1995 – watched Radovan Karadzic's appearance in The Hague on TV. Some said they were relieved to see him in a court after all these years but blamed the international community for taking so long.

One of the members, Hatidza Sukic, said: “After all the atrocities we were faced with, we can say we are happy to see him there. After all these years there is some justice, even though we know Serbia and Republika Srpska were involved in hiding him.”

Munira Subasic, another member of the association, added that they had waited for this for 13 years. She said: “The international community is guilty for this too. There should be other people sitting there in the courtroom. Kostunica deserved it. And where is Mladic? He is still free.” 

Some Serbs, however, believe the trial at The Hague will not be a fair one.

Igor Matic, Serb Pale President in Bosnia-Herzegovina, met Karadzic personally during the war and says he is innocent: “I know he is not guilty. I know that but who cares now? I had the opportunity to meet Karadzic during the war, and I can say that we never had the feeling that he was a war criminal. So what they are doing now is charging an innocent man. He will never get a fair trial there.”