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Civil start to Karadzic legal battle

By Dominic Hughes
BBC News, The Hague

Radovan Karadzic
First to go was the beard he wore during his years on the run

One of the big questions journalists were asking before the first appearance of Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was - what does he look like?

Would he resemble the nationalist leader from the 1990s with his distinctive mane of greying hair? Or would he look more like his alter-ego, alternative healer Dragan Dabic, complete with long white beard and ponytail?

In the end, the surprise was spoilt by the publication of photos taken of Mr Karadzic in Belgrade, not long before he was transferred to The Hague on Wednesday.

The beard had gone and the long hair had been shorn. But there he was, one of the most wanted men in Europe.

Older, thinner, but still clearly recognisable as the man accused of being responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

Silence falls

As he entered court Number One, flanked by two security guards, the public gallery filled with journalists and observers fell silent.

Mr Karadzic took his place behind an anonymous desk and stood straight-backed as a couple of press photographers went about their work.

A Bosniak woman prays at a memorial wall near Srebrenica with the names of the victims of the massacre
Up to 8,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica were killed in July 1995

Wearing a crisp dark suit, white shirt and dark patterned tie, he looked calm as he unpacked a slim briefcase, taking out a sheaf of papers, pen and a pair of reading glasses.

But how Mr Karadzic looked was less significant than how he was - or rather, how he behaved.

Delaying tactics

How would he interact with the court? He has dismissed the tribunal in the past, saying he does not recognise its authority.

Many expect that when his trial does eventually get underway (which will not be for months yet) he will deploy the same kind of delaying tactics as his old mentor, the former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

He managed to drag his trial into its fifth year before it was ended by his death from heart failure.

Mr Karadzic has already stated that - like Milosevic - he wants to conduct his own defence.

The chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz says he will oppose this.

He says they have learnt the lessons of the Milosevic trial, which the former Serbian president at times managed to turn into a circus.

Impassively

In the end, Mr Karadzic's first appearance at the ICTY, in the case known simply as IT-95-05/18, passed by without the kind of finger-jabbing histrionics that Milosevic sometimes engaged in.

Radovan Karadzic in 1995
Radovan Karadzic is accused of ordering "ethnic cleansing"
He sat impassively as Judge Alphons Orie read out the charges, which include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The precise legal language only served to add to the chilling list of atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian war.

The targeting of civilians by snipers during the long siege of Sarajevo; the massacre of about 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica; the ethnic cleansing and persecution of non-Serbs.

All these charges the prosecution will try to lay at the door of Radovan Karadzic.

As is his right, Mr Karadzic declined to enter a plea.

If he has not done so after 30 days, the court will assume he is pleading not guilty.

Calm complaints

But he also had some complaints about his arrest in Belgrade, during which he says he was kidnapped and denied his rights.

He objected to some comments of the prosecution. And he also claimed someone wanted to kill him - he used the curiously Cold War term "liquidate".

Judge Orie though was not going to tolerate anything that was not on his legal agenda, and told Mr Karadzic he would have a chance to voice his complaints later.

It all remained very civil though - Mr Karadzic was courteous and polite.

But there is no doubt the opening skirmishes in a long legal battle have begun.


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