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Serbia Pledges Cooperation Before Karadzic Trial

By Stefan Bos
25 October 2009

A stand-off is expected Monday between former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the U.N. court in The Netherlands as the war crimes suspect says he will boycott the start of the long-awaited trial. Serbia's Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, has told VOA News his country will do "its utmost" to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The U.N. Tribunal in The Hague wants Radovan Karadzic to face 11 charges Monday, including involvement in Europe's worst massacre since World War II in Bosnia-Herzegovina, during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors say Karadzic was the architect of the killings of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian-Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995, as part of an "ethnic-cleansing" campaign to keep areas under Serbian control.

But the former Bosnian-Serb leader says he will not attend the official start of his trial because he had "not enough time to prepare his defense." His lawyer claims he needs at least another nine months to prepare himself.

The court says it plans to start the trial anyway. Trial observers point out that judges could start proceedings without him or force the defendant or his counsel to appear.

Serbia's government extradited Karadzic to The Netherlands in 2008, 13 years after he was indicted for war crimes.

Prosecutors have expressed disappointment that another key suspect in the Srebrenica massacre, former Bosnian-Serb commander Ratko Mladic, remains at large, most likely in Serbia.

Speaking to VOA News in Budapest, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Mladic will be extradited as soon as he is found, although he did not answer whether that may happen this year.

"If I knew how to answer this question, he would not have been at large," said Jeremic. "But what I can say in the context of the cooperation with The Hague, the government of Serbia is going to continue doing its utmost. This is something that we have been doing so far."

Minister Jeremic admits cooperation with The Hague tribunal is a key condition to realize the ambition of Serbia and other Balkan nations to join the European Union.

"I think that there is a widespread belief and understanding that this is precisely the way things are right now in Serbia," he said. "And I very much hope that this issue is no longer going to be an obstacle to the strategic process of integrating [the] Balkans into the European family of nations."

But there have been mixed feelings in Serbia about the trial of Karadzic and the apparent ongoing search for Ratko Mladic. While some Serbs view it as a political trial by a "pro-Western" and "political court", others see it as the best way forward for Serbia after years of isolation.

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