Karadzic plays for time in court debut

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic appeared before the international war crimes tribunal for the first time yesterday, but only to repeat that he needed more time to prepare his defence.

Mr Karadzic's trial on genocide charges, regarded as one of the most important in the history of the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, opened last week but he boycotted the opening sessions.

Yesterday he told the court: "I don't want to boycott these proceedings, but I cannot take part in something that has been bad from the start and where my basic rights have been violated."

Representing himself, he repeated that he had not had sufficient time to read the more than one million pages of evidence and listen to or watch more than 300 hours of audio and video material in order to prepare his defence.

Yesterday's administrative hearing was adjourned after less than two hours. The presiding judge, O-Gon Kwon, said he would rule later in the week on how to proceed in the trial.

The options, as listed by the judge, are to proceed without Mr Karadzic, to assign him a counsel, to appoint an amicus curiae (an intermediary between the court and an accused who has decided to defend himself), or to adjourn the process indefinitely.

The prosecutor, Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff, said another option was to strip Mr Karadzic of the right to defend himself and force him to attend. "If necessary, force can be used to secure his presence in the courtroom," she said.

The charges against Mr Karadzic include 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the most serious ones dealing with the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica and the three- and-a-half year shelling of Sarajevo, which took more than 10,000 lives in Bosnia's civil war between 1992 and 1995.

Mr Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade last year and transferred to the international court in July 2008, after more than a decade in hiding. Before his arrest he spent several years disguised as an alternative healer named Dr Dabic, attending seminars and even travelling abroad under the alias.

Yesterday in court, however, he resembled his old self. Dressed in a dark blue suit, pink shirt and dark red tie, his silvery hair swept up in the famous quiff, he waved his arms at the judge for emphasis.

Families of victims from Srebrenica were appalled at the new delay. "We are disgusted the court's decision," said Hajra Catic from one of the associations of Srebrenica survivors. "Karadzic was the creator of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly of the crime in Srebrenica, and he is being treated as a privileged person by the court," she told The Independent over the phone from Tuzla in Bosnia. Ms Catic travelled to Holland to attend the beginning of the trial last week, but went home deeply disappointed after Mr Karadzic boycotted its opening.