BELGRADE (Reuters) - Radovan Karadzic will conduct his own defence at the Hague tribunal and is convinced he will be cleared of charges of genocide, relatives and associates of the war crimes suspect said on Wednesday.
Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs in the 1992-95 Bosnia war, was arrested in Serbia on Monday after 11 years on the run.
He was one of three remaining war crimes fugitives from the Yugoslav wars, their arrest a condition for Serbia to move towards European Union membership.
He is now in a Belgrade prison awaiting extradition to The Hague, which could come this weekend.
Karadzic’s lawyer in Serbia, Svetozar Vujacic, said his client was in good mental and physical condition. He was not talking to investigators, but “defending himself with silence”.
“He is going to have a legal team in Serbia but will defend himself during his trial at The Hague,” Vujacic told Reuters.
“He is convinced that with the help of God he will win.”
Karadzic is twice indicted for genocide for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the town of Srebrenica in 1995 and for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. Some 11,000 people died in the city from sniper fire, mortar attacks, starvation and illness.
Karadzic had wanted Serb areas of Bosnia to be linked to Serbia and other Serb-dominated areas at a time when Slobodan Milosevic was fanning nationalism in Serbia.
The former Bosnian Serb leader lived under an assumed name for years and worked as a doctor of alternative medicine. He wore thick glasses and grew a bushy beard and long hair, which he wore in a plaited topknot, to hide his well-known face.
On Wednesday, he requested and got a haircut and shave.
“He looks like his old self, a bit aged,” Vujacic said.
Vujacic said he would formally appeal against Karadzic’s extradition order on Friday, when a legal deadline expires, to allow his family to visit, if they are allowed to leave Bosnia.
Karadzic’s wife and children are banned from leaving Bosnia under measures meant to choke off Karadzic’s support network. They are now waiting for permission to travel to Serbia.
His brother Luka told Reuters Karadzic had planned to surrender next January, when the Hague tribunal is due to stop launching new trials. He thought it biased and wanted a trial in Serbia.
The arrest, two weeks into the term of Serbia’s new government, is a great success for the coalition of the pro-Western Democrats and the Socialist Party founded by Milosevic, a onetime backer of Karadzic.
Brussels has called the arrest “a milestone” on Serbia’s road to joining the EU, but will wait until the next report by Hague chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz before deciding on whether to unfreeze trade benefits, diplomats said.
“We need to hear Brammertz’s view on whether there is full cooperation. Then we will take a decision,” said one diplomat, adding it was not clear when Brammertz would give his report.
Some EU leaders have indicated Belgrade must go further to reap the full benefits, by arresting Karadzic’s military chief Ratko Mladic, who is wanted on the same charges.
But Mladic and Karadzic were very different, said James Lyon, senior Balkans adviser for the International Crisis Group. Karadzic was seen as a comic figure in Serbia, while Mladic is considered a true hero, a real defender of Serbs, he said.
“We have no details on Karadzic’s arrest, all we have is questions. We don’t know how long he had been in Serbia, how long he had been under surveillance, who arrested him, were there foreign services involved, if it all started under the previous government or the new,” Lyon said.
“There is no doubt Serbian security services know where Mladic is, the question is are they willing to arrest him. It may not be as easy.”
In Serbia, the reaction has been muted. Government ministers have kept quiet, fearing a backlash from hardline nationalists who see Karadzic and Mladic as heroes.
“All true Serbs know what Radovan Karadzic stands for,” the fringe group Obraz (Dignity) said in a statement. “If Serbia’s enemies and their servants here think they have destroyed his legend, they are very wrong. We are all Radovan.”