THE HAGUE, Netherlands — On the first day of his trial Monday, Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader accused of genocide against Bosnia's Muslim population, refused to appear in court and sent word again that he wanted more time to prepare his defense in proceedings that aim to cover three years of warfare and widespread brutality against civilians.
With no lawyers present to represent Karadzic, a potentially historic moment — the trial of the most senior Bosnian Serb leader called to account for the horrors of the 1990s — fell flat. The presiding judge, O-Gon Kwon, a soft-spoken jurist from South Korea, ended the session in less than 20 minutes but warned that the trial would continue today.
More than 160 people who said they were victims of the former psychiatrist turned extreme Serbian nationalist, made the 24-hour trek by bus from Bosnia to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, and part of the group watched through the bulletproof glass of the public gallery.
As the short session closed, many shouted in anger and frustration. Munira Subasic, one of the organizers, said the majority had to return to Bosnia because they had no money for hotel rooms.
A panel of four international judges is trying the 64-year-old Karadzic. Prosecutors allege he masterminded Serb atrocities throughout Bosnia's 1992-95 war, from ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslims and Croats in 1992 to the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. He faces 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including two counts of genocide. He has repeatedly refused to enter pleas but insists he is innocent. He faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.
Marko Sladojevic, a lawyer working for Karadzic, said his client would not be in court today. He said Karadzic, who was indicted in 1995 and has known he would be tried since being captured in Belgrade over 15 months ago, was still working his way through 45,000 exhibits and piles of audio and video material.
"He wants a trial and to tell his side of the story, but he still has months of work and does not want to commit legal suicide," Sladojevic said.
Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.