THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic refused on Tuesday to give evidence in support of one-time ally Radovan Karadzic, denouncing the U.N. war crimes tribunal as “satanic” and saying he did not want to incriminate himself.
Mladic, the former general who headed separatist Bosnian Serb forces, and Karadzic, the political leader, are both accused of responsibility for the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica near the end of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
The two men are on trial separately, each accused of taking part in a conspiracy to use murder and terror to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnia of its Muslims and Croats in order to create a pure Serb state following the republic’s secession from the then-Serbian-led federal Yugoslavia.
If it could be shown that the two men had not shared their alleged knowledge of events on the ground during the war, it would strengthen Karadzic’s claim that he and Mladic had no common plan to drive out Muslims and Croats, which could help exonerate the former Bosnian Serb political leader.
Looking frail, Mladic, now 71, told judges he did not recognize the court where he had been called to testify on Karadzic’s behalf.
“I do not recognize your court,” he told presiding judge O-Gon Kwon. “It is a NATO creation. It is a satanic court.”
But after being told he risked being charged with contempt of court, he asked court security officials, slurring his words, to fetch his false teeth “so I can speak better”, and the cross-examination then began after a brief recess.
Bosnia’s war, which was part of the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, ended in a peace deal hammered out at a U.S. air base in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995 after NATO air strikes that forced Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table.
Mladic had at first refused to appear before the court when, last year, Karadzic, 68, sought to summon him as a defense witness. Karadzic, seeking to distance himself from crimes investigators attribute to Mladic, then obtained a subpoena from judges, compelling the ex-general to appear.
Karadzic had a list of six questions he wanted to ask of Mladic, focusing on the general’s knowledge of the Srebrenica massacre and the Serb siege of the capital Sarajevo, and how much of that information he had passed to Karadzic.
Karadzic was expected to argue that he was unaware of his most senior general’s activities, and so could not be held personally responsible for the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War Two.
Mladic gave the same response in answer to each question: “I cannot and do not wish to testify ... because it would impair my health and prejudice my own case,” he said, offering instead to read a seven-page statement he said he had written the previous evening - an offer judges refused.
Proceedings were complete after less than two hours and Mladic was led out, exchanging nods with Karadzic.
“Thanks a lot, Radovan. I‘m sorry, these idiots wouldn’t let me speak. They defend NATO,” he said as he passed, referring to the court. As he came down from the witness stand, Mladic smiled at the public gallery, which is separated from the high-security courtroom by a pane of bullet-proof glass.
Beforehand, his lawyer Branko Lukic had told judges that Mladic’s poor health, the result of a series of strokes that left him partially paralyzed, had caused gaps in his memory so that he was unable to distinguish fact from fiction.
Karadzic and Mladic were indicted shortly before the end of Bosnia’s war, which cost up to 100,000 lives, but spent more than a decade living on the run in Serbia before their arrest.
They face sentences of up to life imprisonment if convicted of charges that include crimes against humanity and genocide.
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Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich