Karadzic Calls Srebrenica Massacre "Myth"

Major events in Bosnia's war — the 44-month Serb siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica — are "myths" that were staged or fabricated to vilify Serbs, Radovan Karadzic declared Tuesday at his Yugoslav war crimes trial.

Speaking on the second day of his defense, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader said the genocide indictment against him was riddled with false evidence. He also denied Serb culpability in the 1992-1995 war that killed 100,000 people.

Prosecutors say Karadzic was the "supreme commander" of a campaign to kill or expel Muslims and Croats from eastern Bosnia and create an ethnically pure Serbian state. He is charged with two counts of genocide and nine other counts of murder, extermination, persecution, forced deportation and the seizing of 200 U.N. hostages.

He faces possible life imprisonment if convicted.

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During seven hours stretched over two days, Karadzic gave a uniquely Serb view of events. His account stood in glaring contrast to news reports and television footage at the time and also contradicted the verdicts against Bosnian Serb political leaders and military commanders who are already serving long sentences for war crimes.

Karadzic boasted that by the end of his trial he would prove those men innocent.

"I am not afraid of these proceedings. It is with great enthusiasm that I am preparing for these proceedings," he said.

He said the judges should give back his indictment to the prosecutors so they could "sweep out false evidence," and called for authorities to "rehabilitate international courts and trials of this nature."

Karadzic won a minor victory from the court, which granted him permission to appeal its earlier refusal to delay his trial until mid-June. The judges canceled the scheduled appearance Wednesday of the first prosecution witness and adjourned the case until the appellate court rules on his complaint that he had not been given enough time to prepare his defense. Karadzic is representing himself.

On Tuesday, he spoke at length about the siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. But he spent surprisingly little time talking about the most serious charge against him, the 1995 slaughter of Muslim men and boys in the U.N.-declared safe zone of Srebrenica.

Karadzic challenged the figure of 8,000 dead in Srebrenica, saying no more than 2,000 or 3,000 could have been killed. He showed a photograph of a stone shrine at Srebrenica engraved with the figure of 8,372 victims, but claimed Muslim corpses had been brought from as far away as 60 miles (100 kilometers) or more to fabricate the figures.

"What they created there is a place of worship. It's a myth again," he told the court. "We know graves are being exhumed in Bosnia so that somebody could be buried in Srebrenica."

He said DNA investigations should be conducted on the victims. "It has to be established who got killed, how, in which way, and where," he said.

The U.N. court already has ruled that genocide occurred in Srebrenica, meaning that the slaughter was conducted with the intent to destroy the Muslim community in that area. But the court has a high bar for proving genocide, and only one general, Radislav Krstic, has been convicted of aiding and abetting genocide for the weeklong bloodletting at Srebrenica.

Discussing the days prior to the war, Karadzic depicted Bosnia's Serbs as victims of "state-sponsored terrorism" by Muslim authorities who rushed toward independence from Yugoslavia and who sought to draw international forces into the conflict.

Referring frequently to maps and speeches flashed onto the courtroom's computer screens, Karadzic spoke of an inexorable breakdown of trust between Bosnian Muslim and Serb leaders, the division of the country into ethnic entities and the march toward war.

He cited provocative attacks on Serbs in early 1992: The shooting of a wedding party and the bombing of a church.

"The shocks didn't come every day — they came every hour," he said, adding that Serb leaders tried to "protect the Serb people from their own state, from their own police, from the state-sponsored terror of their own country."

The start of the Bosnian war is generally marked by the beginning of the bombardment of Sarajevo on April 5, 1992, from the surrounding hillsides.

Karadzic asserted that Sarajevo was "not a city under siege" but instead "a divided city, like Beirut." Serb forces also were surrounded, both inside and outside the city, he said.

He rose twice from his chair to walk over to a large map of Sarajevo.

"This is my city. I spent 50 years of my life living in it," he said, pointing to military front lines that ran through the neighborhoods he knew so well.

He accused Muslim and Croat forces of "the abuse of hospitals, schools, kindergartens turned into military facilities." On his computerized map he pointed to sniper positions, rooftop bunkers and firing points from the museum in Sarajevo.

When Serb troops responded to fire from Muslims "we were accused of firing indiscriminately at Sarajevo," he claimed.

Karadzic's case will be one of the last dealt with by the Yugoslav tribunal, which has been ordered to wind up its work. Created in 1993, it has indicted 161 people, and 40 cases are still incomplete.

Karadzic's top general, Ratko Mladic, and the wartime leader of the Croatian Serbs, Goran Hadzic, are still fugitives.