Wed, Mar 23, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Karadzic continues to divide Bosnia, as verdict looms

Croats and Bozniaks consider Radovan Karadzic the architect of ‘ethnic cleansing’ and the genocidal Srebrenica massacre, but most Serbs still deny any war crimes occurred

By Daria Sito-Sucic  /  Reuters, SARAJEVO

Illustration: Mountain people

The verdict that a UN tribunal is to hand down in Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s trial for genocide has reopened old wounds for many Bosnians, who for years feared him as the “master of life and death.”

The long-awaited decision by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, to be delivered tomorrow after a five-year trial, reminds Bosnians that Karadzic’s legacy lives on in a country still divided along ethnic lines two decades after the war that killed 100,000 people.

He remains a deeply divisive figure, hated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, but championed by many Serbs who say he has been demonized by the international community.

“Karadzic is the most responsible for everything that happened in Bosnia,” said Fikret Grabovica, whose 11-year-old daughter was killed by a Serb grenade in front of their Sarajevo home 23 years ago. “He needs to be remembered as one of the greatest criminals of recent history and not, as some would wish, as a national hero.”

Grabovica’s daughter Irma was among 600 children killed by random shelling or sniper fire during the 43-month siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, the longest siege of a city in Europe’s modern history, in which about 11,500 people died.

If he is found guilty, Karadzic would be Europe’s highest-ranking official since the Nazi trials after World War II to be sentenced for genocide by an international court.

Prosecutors have asked for a life sentence.

Now 70, Karadzic was the first president of the self-declared Republika Srpska, which the Bosnian Serbs tried to carve out of Bosnia and link to Serbia and which survives as an autonomous part of Bosnia under the US-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992 to 1995 war.

He is widely seen as the mastermind behind the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced 2 million people from their homes and led to thousands being held, tortured and raped in detention camps.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) charged the former psychiatrist with 11 counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the Srebrenica massacre, where Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered about 8,000 Muslim men and boys in just a few days in July 1995.

A WARNING

Kada Hotic, a Srebrenica survivor who lost her husband and son in the massacre, said the verdict was important to show that “such an evil is punishable [and] as a warning to those who would dare to push the people into doing crimes in the future.”

The Bosnian war broke out after Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence from the then-Yugoslav federation in a 1992 referendum boycotted by Serbs.

Under Karadzic’s leadership, Serbs occupied 70 percent of the country, killing and persecuting Muslims and Croats. A year later, war broke out between Muslims and Croats, previously allied against Serbs.

Most Serbs deny that crimes were committed during the war.

Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik has said that Karadzic did not order any crimes and argued that the massacre in Srebrenica was not genocide, although the tribunal has ruled that it was.

Dodik’s view is widely shared by Serbian officials.

“As long as you have in Bosnia three different history books used by the Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak communities with a totally different assessment about not only the war, but the last 200 years ... how do you want to move forward?” ICTY Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said in The Hague.

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