Genocide trial of ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to hear from 1st witness

By Mike Corder, AP
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Karadzic genocide trial to hear from 1st witness

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Bosnian Muslim opened witness testimony in Radovan Karadzic’s genocide trial Tuesday, telling judges that Serbs burned his elderly father-in-law alive during the brutal takeover of his village at the outset of the Bosnian war.

The testimony finally opened the presentation of evidence against the former Bosnian Serb leader after months of delays and legal wrangling since his arrest in July 2008 after 12 years on the run.

It also marked Karadzic’s debut as his own defense counsel at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.

Karadzic, 64, is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for allegedly orchestrating atrocities perpetrated by Bosnian Serb troops and paramilitary thugs to carve out an ethnically pure Serb ministate in Bosnia. He faces a life sentence if convicted.

Karadzic insists he is innocent and argues Serbs were defending themselves against what he has described as a fundamentalist plot to turn Bosnia into an Islamic republic.

On Tuesday, Ahmet Zulic said his father-in-law was killed by Serbs “mopping up” survivors of an artillery attack on a mainly Muslim village near Sanski Most, in northwestern Bosnia, in May 1992.

Zulic also watched Serbs force about 20 Muslim men to dig their own graves and then slashed their throats or shot them, prosecutor Ann Sutherland told judges.

Zulic said in a written statement he was saved from having his own throat cut by his former teacher, Medeljko Rasula.

The Serbs arrested Zulic and other Muslim men and held them first in a cramped garage and then in a cattle shed at the notorious Manjaca camp near the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka from June to November 1992, Sutherland said.

Zulic’s weight dropped from 90 to 55 kilograms (from 198 to 121 pounds); relentless beatings by Bosnian Serbs ranging from police officers to school children left him with broken bones and a septic wound on his back, he testified. He said his captors broke his fingers once after he refused to make the sign of the cross.

In an effort to save time, most of Zulic’s testimony was given to judges in a 37-page written statement and he was not asked to describe much of his ordeal in court.

He did, however, tell judges he was beaten “nearly to death” after he allowed Red Cross workers to examine his injuries during an inspection of Manjaca camp. Two other Muslims who also allowed the Red Cross to examine them were beaten to death, Zulic said.

Although Zulic did not mention Karadzic in the early part of his testimony, prosecutors allege the former Bosnian Serb leader orchestrated the plan and their ability to link him to well-documented Bosnian Serb crimes is key to proving their case.

Karadzic’s case is the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal’s most important since former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in his jail cell in 2006 before judges at the U.N. court could reach a verdict in his trial. The cases cover many of the same atrocities.

At the outset of Tuesday’s hearing, judges warned Karadzic they would not tolerate him taking hours to cross examine witnesses as Milosevic often did during his four-year trial.

But when he began cross examining Zulic, Karadzic immediately tested the patience of presiding judge O-Gon Kwon by asking the witness if he knew a string of people in Sanski Most — even asking if there were people he did not know.

“How can he answer this question as to people he doesn’t know?” Kwon snapped at Karadzic. “Move on please.”

Karadzic told judges he did not plan to testify in his own defense, depriving prosecutors of the opportunity to cross examine him about his activities during the war.

The first day of testimony came months after his trial started in October with the prosecutor’s opening statement. Karadzic boycotted that hearing to protest what he claimed was lack of time to prepare his defense against the 11-count indictment.

Zulic did not look at Karadzic as he entered court. Karadzic, dressed in a gray suit, leaned back in his chair and stared at Zulic over his reading glasses.

In an apparent attempt to support his argument, Karadzic questioned Zulic about Muslims organizing armed resistance before the conflict erupted. Zulic said he did not know about it in his village, though he did admit buying a machine gun from a Serb.

Prosecutors have 300 hours to present their case. It spans the brutal Bosnian Serb campaign to drive Muslims and Croats out of large parts of Bosnia early in the war through the deadly siege and sniping campaign in the capital, Sarajevo, to the bloody climax of the conflict in Srebrenica, where Serb forces murdered some 8,000 Muslim men in Europe’s worst massacre since the Holocaust.

(This version corrects number of pages in statement to 37, sted 35.)

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