THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Purse-lipped and gaunt, Radovan Karadzic appeared before a U.N. war crimes tribunal for the first time Thursday and in sharply worded Serbian vowed to defend himself against genocide and other charges "as I would defend myself against any natural catastrophe."
In remarks that were cut short by the judge, the former Bosnian Serb leader suggested he would attempt to expose alleged double-dealing by the West, particularly the United States, in the wake of the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Shorn of the beard and long hair that helped disguise him as an alternative health guru in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, Karadzic listened mostly impassively as Judge Alphons Orie read a summary of the indictment.
The former president of the Bosnian Serb republic and supreme commander of Bosnian Serb forces faces two counts of genocide arising from the siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, the single worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II. Karadzic, 63, also faces other charges, including crimes against humanity and murder.
Karadzic declined to enter a plea during the 70-minute hearing, exercising his right not to do so for 30 days. He answered a series of simple questions, sometimes with a flash of humor. Asked, for instance, about conditions since he arrived in the Netherlands, Karadzic said he had been "in worse places."
Karadzic told the court that he had wanted to appear before the tribunal soon after his 1995 indictment. He suggested a deal had been cut with U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated the Dayton peace agreement ending the war in Bosnia, that Karadzic would not be sent to The Hague if he didn't endanger the accord. Holbrooke dismissed the allegation.
The suspicion that in the immediate aftermath of the war, NATO forces and U.N. police were not actively seeking Karadzic because of a secret deal has lingered for years.
"If anyone in the world deserves the death penalty, it's Radovan Karadzic," Holbrooke said. "He was the worst of them all."