March 2, 2010 2:00 am

Karadzic denies guilt in Bosnian war crimes trial

Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, denied he was guilty of genocide or war crimes yesterday, saying he represented a "just and holy cause" but had been demonised in a propaganda war by Nato, foreign media and humanitarian organisations.

In an at times rambling exposition of his defence case, Mr Karadzic chose to focus on attaching blame for the outbreak of the 1992-95 Bosnian civil war on the Bosnian Muslims, while denying some of the atrocities that he is accused of ever took place.

"The need for the prosecutors to portray me as a monster is due to the fact that they don't have any evidence," Mr Karadzic said, sifting through printed notes with reading glasses perched on his nose.

The case is the biggest at the United Nations-backed tribunal in The Hague since the trial of Slobodan Milosevic ended when the former Yugoslav president died of a heart attack in 2006. Prosecutors say Mr Karadzic is responsible for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, when troops under his command shelled and shot at civilians in the city, killing more than 10,000 people.

Despite its importance for the legacy of the tribunal and as a milestone in international justice, the court has faced many of the same difficulties encountered during the Milosevic trial, with Mr Karadzic choosing when to show up in court despite his incarceration in a nearby detention centre .

"I stand here before you not to defend the mere mortal that I am but to defend the greatness of a small nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina," Mr Karadzic, 64, said. "I will defend that nation of ours and their cause, which is just and holy."

Although the trial formally started last October, Mr Karadzic refused to leave his cell when the prosecution outlined its case against him.

Judges have appointed a "standby" lawyer to be ready to take over his defence if they rule he is wasting more court time. The lawyer, Richard Harvey, sat in court yesterday but Mr Karadzic, who ignored him, is challenging his appointment.

Mr Karadzic will today continue his opening statement. He yesterday said journalists and humanitarian organisations acted as spies for Nato, smuggled weapons and enemy combatants through Bosnian Serb lines and spread propaganda against him.

The trial is expected to run until 2012.

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