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Radovan Karadzic’s phone taps

Radovan Karadzic (Photo- Valerie Kuypers/AP)

Radovan Karadzic (Photo- Valerie Kuypers/AP)

From his the Karadzic trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, the Times reports:

Radovan Karadzic showed his contempt for international justice by shunning his own trial again yesterday, but the chilling threats he made before Europe’s worst atrocities since the Second World War still echoed around the UN courtroom.

Judges in The Hague refused to let Dr Karadzic’s boycott disrupt the proceedings any further and the prosecution took full advantage. If the presence of the bereaved Mothers of Srebrenica who crowded the public gallery was not enough, transcripts of phone taps from 1991 reminded the court who they were dealing with.

“They have to know that there are 20,000 armed Serbs around Sarajevo . . . it will be a black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die,” Dr Karadzic was recorded as saying.

“They will disappear. That people will disappear from the face of the Earth.”

Dr Karadzic has refused to enter pleas on the two charges of genocide and nine other war crimes he is accused of as the alleged mastermind of the bloody Bosnian conflict of 1992-95, in which 100,000 died. He is refusing to leave the UN detention centre because he wants up to a year to prepare his defence.

The 44-month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, left at least 10,000 people dead and horrified the world as the city’s residents were subjected to sniping and shelling from Bosnian Serb forces on the surrounding hills.

Alan Tieger, opening the prosecution, quoted from another part of the 1991 telephone transcript in which Dr Karadzic warned: “I think it is clear to the army and clear to everyone. It will be a real bloodbath.”

These were private phone calls between Dr Karadzic and allies, showing the Bosnian Serb leader’s uninhibited rage that Muslim leaders were daring to resist the partition of the Bosnian capital.

In another intercept, from a conversation with a colleague nervous of Europe’s reaction to military action to establish a Serb state in Bosnia, Dr Karadzic barked: “Europe will be told to go f*** itself and not to come back until the job is finished.”

As the prosecution took the court through the military build-up of Bosnian Serb forces and its state apparatus in 1991 and 1992, the rhetoric of their leader, Dr Karadzic, showed how he whipped up ethnic hatred.

“No Muslim foundations shall ever be laid in Serb areas and Serbian villages,” he was quoted as saying. “All foundations that are laid will be blown up. You must not sell land to the Muslims . . . this is a fight to the finish. It is a battle for living space.”

Rhetoric will not be enough to convict Dr Karadzic of genocide unless he is shown to have a direct link to the numerous atrocities carried out by Bosnian Serb forces, including the murder of about 8,000 men and boys in the UN haven of Srebrenica. Survivors and relatives will be among the many witnesses to testify during the trial, which is expected to last up to three years.

Judge O-Gon Kwon, the chief judge, issued a second warning that Dr Karadzic would have a legal representative imposed upon him if he continued to remain in his cell when the prosecution completes its outline on Monday.

“We repeat our warning to him that there are circumstances where the chamber may proceed in the absence of an accused and may assign counsel to the case.”

As the trial of Dr Karadzic began, his successor as Bosnian Serb President, Biljana Plavsic, flew to freedom yesterday after six years in jail for war crimes.

Mrs Plavsic, 79, known in her heyday as the Iron Lady of the Balkans, left a prison in Sweden after the UN court granted her early release from an 11-year sentence on the ground of her good behaviour in jail.

She was originally charged with genocide, but struck a plea agreement with prosecutors in October 2002 in which she admitted to “supporting and contributing to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of ethnic populations by force”.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.