THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — One Bosnian Serb leader testified in defense of another at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Tuesday, blaming Muslims' wishes for an Islamic state in Bosnia for fueling the country's ethnic war.
Radovan Karadzic, accused by United Nations prosecutors of orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout the 1992-95 Bosnian war, called one of his successors, Milorad Dodik, as a defense witness at the long-running genocide trial. Karadzic was the wartime president of the Bosnian Serbs.
Dodik, like Karadzic, blamed Muslims for the war in Bosnia that left some 100,000 dead, accusing the Muslims' wartime leader Alia Izetbegovic of seeking to turn Bosnia into an Islamic state.
Dodik, now president of the Serb entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska, said Izetbegovic tried to push his plan for a state under Islamic law despite not having a majority in Bosnia in the months before war broke out.
"I recognized his activities at the time and how he was carrying out his political plan," Dodik said. "It has elements of fanaticism."
He said elements of Izetbegovic's political party began arming Muslims before the war and that the first victims of the conflict were Serbs shot by Muslims.
"Izetbegovic laid the foundations of the conflict," Dodik said.
One of Karadzic's key defense arguments is that Serbs took up arms only as a last resort to protect themselves from Muslim aggression as the former Yugoslavia crumbled in the early 1990s. However, most cases at the U.N. court involve allegations of Serbs persecuting and expelling Muslims and Croats from territory they considered part of a greater Serbia.
Karadzic faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if he is convicted.
Dodik, a Serb politician at the time of the war, has dominated the Bosnian Serb political scene since the end of the conflict. He has opposed international efforts to unite the country after the war partitioned it, and continues to advocate independence or at least greater autonomy for the Bosnian territory the Serbs gained during the war - one of Karadzic's wartime goals.
Dodik has repeatedly denied the genocide in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces massacred some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995, and is a very vocal critic of the Hague tribunal or any other court that has sentenced Serbs for war crimes.
In court Tuesday, he chided prosecutor Alan Tieger for objecting to part of his testimony, saying "please don't interrupt me."
In Sarajevo, Alija Izetbegovic's son Bakir, who now is one of Bosnia's three presidents, said that Dodik was Karadzic's successor in many ways, including the methods he uses in his political fights such as "lies, insinuations and the twisting of facts." He said historical facts say his father fought for a multiethnic Bosnia and not for some Islamic state.
Dodik was twisting facts because he wants to change the perception of how Republika Srpska was established, and that was through the killing and expelling — even genocide — of non-Serbs who lived on the conquered territory which the Serbs then proclaimed as their mini-state, Bakir Izetbegovic said.
An association of widows and mothers of men killed in Srebrenica in 1995 said the fact that Dodik was testifying in Karadzic's defense is not a surprise because "Dodik is just an extended hand" of Karadzic.
"Milorad Dodik is continuing Karadzic's policy of glorification of everything that is Serb and his denial of anything that is Bosnian, so there is not much difference between the two," a statement from the association said.
Speaking last week in Bosnia about his planned testimony in The Hague, Dodik said that Karadzic had sacrificed himself and his family for the interests of Republika Srpska and added that "Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot survive as a joint country. It is a dying country and a badly hurt patient kept alive just by the international community."
Associated Press writer Aida Cerkez in Sarajevo contributed to this story.