THE HAGUE — A defiant Radovan Karadzic told the UN Yugoslav war crimes court Tuesday he should be rewarded for doing everything to avoid war in Bosnia, insisting he was a tolerant man who had sought to reduce human suffering.
"I should have been rewarded for all the good things that I've done because I did everything within human power to avoid the war and to reduce the human suffering," the former Bosnian Serb leader told the Yugoslav war crimes court in The Hague as he began his own defence against charges including genocide.
"Neither I nor anyone else that I know thought that there would be a genocide against those who were not Serbs," said Karadzic, who is notably charged with masterminding Europe's worst post-World War II massacre in the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica during its bloody 1992-95 war.
Looking relaxed and dressed in a black suit, light blue shirt and striped blue tie, Karadzic, projected an image of a schoolmaster, with his glasses perched precariously on his nose, lecturing the court and occasionally smiling.
His words however were met with incredulous cries and snickers from the packed public gallery, where several survivors and victims' family members sat.
Outraged relatives of those massacred in Srebrenica said Karadzic was "trying to fool the world."
Karadzic, 67, is accused of being one of the masterminds of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war in the 1990s that claimed more than 100,000 lives and uprooted over two million from their homes.
He faces a life sentence if convicted and has pleaded not guilty.
"I am a mild man, a tolerant man, with a great capacity for understanding others," Karadzic, a published poet and trained psychiatrist before the war, told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
"I have nothing against Muslims or Croats" he added, claiming that even his hairdresser before the war was a Muslim.
But, he said, Bosnia's Serbs believed a genocide was planned against them by the Muslims and Croats who were arming themselves after Yugoslavia split in 1991.
As at the start of his trial in October 2009, Karadzic told judges that the atrocities blamed on Bosnian Serbs, including the killings at Srebrenica, were "lies, propaganda and rumours".
Brought to court after his arrest on a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic is charged with masterminding the murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys by forces loyal to him in the eastern Bosnian enclave in July 1995.
Over the space of a few days, thousands were systematically executed and dumped into mass graves.
Prosecutors say Karadzic, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic acted together to "cleanse" Bosnian Muslims and Croats from Bosnia's Serb-claimed territories after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991.
Milosevic died midway through his own trial for genocide and war crimes in March 2006. Mladic has been on trial since May in The Hague.
Karadzic is also charged for his alleged role in the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo between May 1992 and November 1995 in which 10,000 people died under terrifying sniper and artillery fire.
Indicted by the ICTY in 1995, Karadzic spent 13 years on the run before being arrested in Belgrade where he practised as a doctor of alternative medicine.
Judges dropped one genocide count in June, citing a lack of evidence to substantiate the charge for killings by Bosnian Serb forces in Bosnian towns from March to December 1992.
Speaking from Sarajevo, where the atrocities happened 17 years ago, embittered relatives of victims at Srebrenica accused Karadzic of trying to fool the world.
"He committed such evil in this country that it is hard to tell if it will have a future, if we will ever return to a normal life," Kada Hotic of the Mothers of Srebrenica association told AFP.
"He is trying to fool the world."
After Karadzic gave his opening statement, the first of an expected 300 defence witnesses took the stand and cast doubt that the Bosnian Serb army had fired a mortar shell near Sarajevo's central Markale market in August 1995, killing 43 people.
Russian colonel Andrei Demurenko, the UN's chief of staff in Sarajevo from January to December 1995, said the blast was not caused by shelling but "by a terrorist act" committed from inside Sarajevo.
He will continue his testimony on Wednesday.
Tuesday is a historic day for the ICTY as it also saw the start of the trial of Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic, the last of 161 war crimes suspects to be handed over to the court.
Hadzic, 54, faces 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the 1991-95 war in Croatia, including the massacre of civilians taken from Vukovar hospital in 1991 in one of the conflict's darkest episodes.
On Tuesday the court heard how Croat civilians were forced to walk into a minefield in October 1991, one of the first crimes of the long and bloody conflict, before being killed and buried in a mass grave.
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