THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic faces a U.N. war crimes judge for the first time on Thursday to answer genocide charges after his dramatic arrest that ended 11 years on the run.
The man who led a breakaway Serb Republic during the Bosnian War faces two charges of genocide over the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.
He is due in court at 10 a.m. EDT after spending his first night in a cell at the U.N. war crimes tribunal detention centre in the Hague.
Since his arrest in Belgrade he has shorn the flowing beard and long hair that helped disguise him as an alternative healer in the years following the war. He was flown to the Netherlands on Wednesday morning.
The behavior of Karadzic — a flamboyant figure when Bosnian Serb leader — will offer an indication as to how he will conduct himself during his eventual trial, and whether judges can expect a repeat of the forceful display by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the same courtroom.
Just like Milosevic, who died in custody in 2006 months before a verdict was due in his four-year trial, Karadzic has suggested he wishes to defend himself, a move which could protract the proceedings.
Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said he would conduct the trial efficiently, learning from the Milosevic case.
“Of course it will take some months before the prosecution and defense will be ready to start. It will be a complex trial but we are fully aware of the importance of being efficient,” he told reporters.
During proceedings before Judge Alphons Orie he will be asked to enter a plea to the charges against him after the indictment or a summary of the indictment is read.
Karadzic’s lawyer in Serbia has said the 63-year-old will not enter a plea but will instead make use of the 30-day-period he is allocated. Under court rules if he refuses to enter a plea then, a plea of ‘not guilty’ is entered for him.
Earlier this week relatives said Karadzic was in good spirits and preparing his defense. A travel ban for his family has been lifted.
Two suits were delivered to him in Belgrade for his court appearance, one light, one dark.
Karadzic’s delivery to The Hague was key to Serbia securing closer ties with the European Union and his arrest was seen as a pro-Western signal by the new government sworn in this month.
France, the current EU president, said in a statement that Karadzic’s arrest and transfer “mark an important step in the process of reconciliation in the western Balkans and in the rapprochement between Serbia and Europe.”