A strange world in which Bosnian Serbs do no wrong: Steve Crawshaw, East Europe Editor, listens to Radovan Karadzic's version of events - and also reports on Muslim despair about the next talks

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The Independent Online
RADOVAN KARADZIC, a psychiatrist who specialises in neurosis and depression, is a large, genial man. And he is happy to explain how the war in Bosnia began. Mr Karadzic, self-proclaimed leader of Bosnian Serbs, is in charitable mood. 'The Muslims started the war. Now, they've lost. But they still don't want to talk. And we hesitate to defeat them.'

He tells stories of how the Bosnians introduced 'state terror' in Sarajevo in April. 'More than 600 (Muslim) snipers were distributed on top of high buildings in Sarajevo.' Even the pro-peace demonstrations in April (during which protesters were killed by Serbian gunmen) were, in his view, 'a sort of fascism, like you could see in Germany in the 1930s'. He talks of torture that 'went on, continuously, in Sarajevo'.

None of these claims is backed up by evidence. On the contrary, the balance of terror has consistently appeared to be on the Serbian side. There was, for example, the town of Bijeljina, which I visited shortly after a Serbian massacre in April. According to Mr Karadzic, those who died were mostly 'Albanian mercenaries'. He insists the mostly Muslim inhabitants of Bijeljina were grateful for the attack, in which 40 people died.

The bloody siege of Gorazde, 30 miles east of Sarajevo, is also explained by Mr Karadzic as a defensive action. 'The Muslims have been mistreating the Serbs. That's why the Serbs escaped, and now they want to go back to their homes.' This, it seems, is why Serbian forces are destroying Gorazde and other towns. Mr Karadzic adds: 'They're not killing civilians, really.'

When talking about Sarajevo, too, Mr Karadzic seems to live in a world of his own. He insists: 'We don't have snipers. Only they have snipers.' He was unabashed when I told him I had recently returned from Sarajevo, and had seen the effects of Serbian sniper bullets there, where a number of crossroads are lethally exposed to the Serbian-held hills. Any fatal shootings, he said, were the responsibility of the Muslims, firing on Sarajevans to get sympathetic publicity.

'Ethnic cleansing' - the forced deportation of Muslims - was not so bad, either. 'We let them go - with their luggage, and everything.'

Mr Karadzic, who represented Bosnian Serbs at this week's European Community-brokered Bosnian talks in London, describes the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic - seen by most people in Sarajevo as an arch-moderate - as a 'fundamentalist fanatic'. It is Mr Izetbegovic, he says, who started the trouble. Serbs have nothing to apologise for.

He insists the division of Bosnia is the only option, and is pleased that the leader of the Bosnian Croats, Mate Boban, appears to agree. 'I think we share a common view on this subject.' A division is what Muslims fear most.

Mr Karadzic's denials of Serbian brutality are confident, if unconvincing. But Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Foreign Minister, insists Mr Karadzic is taken too much at face value by the West. 'Instead of punishing the aggressor, we have pressure on the weak side, the side of the victim. The ultimate cynicism is to say that everybody is to blame - while we have practically the annihilation of a people and of a country.'

Mr Silajdzic, a historian, rejects Mr Karadzic's talk of Islamic fundamentalism as 'nonsense'. 'Sarajevo has always been an international town, a town where everything is possible. That spirit must now be killed,' he said. Mr Silajdzic sees no reason for optimism in the new talks on Bosnia and Croatia, due to begin in London on 26 August. 'They are prepared to talk, indefinitely - till the last of us is finished. We feel betrayed. We feel abandoned,' he said.

SARAJEVO - UN forces, including Canadians guarding Sarajevo airport, came under fire yesterday in heavy clashes between Serbian and Muslim-led forces, AP reports. At least 13 people were reported killed in the capital and throughout Bosnia.

In New York, Boutros Boutros- Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, said he wanted to recruit at least 850 more civilians and police in Croatia to prevent 'ethnic cleansing' and stop fighting from spilling over from Bosnia.

(Photograph omitted)