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Karadzic ends boycott of trial seen as key to Balkans closure

Karadzic, who broke boycott of his war-crimes trial but asked for more time to prepare, rose from small-town figure to become front-man for Serb strongman Milosevic.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 3, 2009

Karadzic appeared at the International Criminal Tribunal in March, but refused to leave his cell when his trial began. A bootmaker’s son and published poet, he is charged with complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats.

Jerry Lampen/Reuters

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The Hague, Netherlands

Radovan Karadzic broke a boycott on his Yugoslav war crimes trial today to ask for 10 more months for his defense against genocide charges in Bosnia.

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"I would really be a criminal if I were to accept these conditions," the former Bosnian Serb president told Judge Kwon O-gon, who is considering appointing a stand-by council for him.

Mr. Karadzic, captured after 11 years on the run, says the UN tribunal that has prosecuted 159 persons for Balkan war crimes is "illegal" – but says he doesn't want to boycott it and needs more time.

Karadzic is considered a "big fish" at the tribunal. But the crimes he is charged with today took place more than 15 years ago – a time Europe was celebrating the end of a 40-year cold war, and Beethoveen's Ode to Joy was still reverberating at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. The Balkans war ended much of the joy.

Who was Radovan Karadzic, then?

Balkan historians and Sarajevo experts say Karadzic always had a thirst for fame. He was a small- town Montenegrin, a bootmaker's son who moved from the hills to big city Sarajevo seeking greatness. He claimed lineage to Vuk Karadzic, father of the Serbian language. He published three volumes of poetry, much of it harboring a Sarajevo grudge: "The city lies ablaze like a rough lump of incense."

But he cut little weight among city blue-bloods ­ even as he shape-shifted, for a time, into a Green Party politician and a soccer-club psychiatrist, or stood with Muslim leader Alia Izetbegovic to honor Muslims and Serbs killed in World War II and vowed never to let the Drina River flow with blood again.

Yet Mr. Karadzic's thirst for fame helped him become a key "front man" for Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic's bloody project of "greater Serbia," experts say. His venue: a war that dissident poet and Czech president Vaclev Havel called an attack on "civilizational values," when he pressed for military intervention in the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that fellow "poet" Karadzic helped direct. Barring the arrest of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, Karadzic's war-crimes trial is seen as a last chance to bring closure to the Balkan tragedy.