World Bulletin / News Desk
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, on trial over his role in some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two, began his defence on Tuesday by saying that far from being accused, he "should be praised for his efforts to promote peace."
Brought to court after his arrest on a Belgrade bus in 2008, Karadzic, 67, is charged with masterminding the murder of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys by forces loyal to him in the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995.
The massacre, when Bosnian Serb troops under the command of wartime general Ratko Mladic overran Dutch UN peacekeepers, was the worst atrocity committed on European soil since World War II. Over the space of a few days, thousands were systematically executed and dumped into mass graves in the area.
"Instead of being accused, I should have been rewarded for all the good things I have done. I did everything in human power to avoid the war. I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians," he told the court.
"I proclaimed numerous unilateral ceasefires and military containment. And I stopped our army many times when they were close to victory."
Some of the victims expressed disgust at his words.
"It is difficult to even describe how I felt when I heard him saying this," said Kada Hotic, a Srebrenica massacre survivor who lost 56 male family members there.
"I lost so many family members only because they were Muslims in a territory that Karadzic desired to turn into exclusively Serb land. Is that peacemaking?" she said.
Prosecutors say Karadzic, former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic and 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.
Karadzic is also charged for his 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.
Like Mladic, he has also been charged for his alleged role in taking hostage UN observers and peacekeepers to use them as human shields during a NATO bombing campaign against Bosnian Serb targets in May and June 1995.
Karadzic also said a famous press photograph of an emaciated man standing behind barbed wire in what was apparently a concentration camp had been staged.
Fikret Alic, the detainee who appeared in that picture, was watching Karadzic's statements from the gallery on Tuesday.
"It was a humiliation for me that even today he is maintaining that this story was made up," he said.
Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1995, Karadzic spent 13 years on the run before being arrested in 2008 in Belgrade where he practised as a doctor of alternative medicine.
His trial began in October 2009 and prosecutors put their case against him between April 2010 and May this year.
Karadzic plans a four-hour statement to open his defence, followed by the testimony of Russian colonel Andrei Demurenko, the UN chief of staff in Sarajevo from January to December 1995.
Karadzic, who has been allotted 300 hours for his defence, has said he will call 300 witnesses to testify on his behalf.
The names include Greek President Carolos Papoulias, who was Athens' foreign minister during the Bosnian war.
Tuesday is a historic day for the ICTY as it also sees 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.