Suspected war criminal Radovan Karadzic at the start of his defence at the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague (AP)
Accused mass murderer Radovan Karadzic has portrayed himself as a peace-loving tolerant man as he opened his defence in his war crimes trial.
The former Bosnian Serb leader claimed he tried to prevent fighting and then worked to reduce casualties in the bloody 1992-95 Bosnian war.
His claims brought snorts of derision and cries of "He's lying! He's lying!" from Muslim survivors of the war who were watching the trial from the public gallery at the UN tribunal in The Hague.
Karadzic, who faces charges including genocide and crimes against humanity, was given 90 minutes to make a statement on his role in the war that left an estimated 100,000 dead. The statement was not made under oath, meaning Karadzic could not be cross-examined by prosecutors.
Karadzic, a former psychologist and poet, told judges he was a "physician and literary man" who was a reluctant player in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia. He said before the war many of his friends, including his hairdresser, were Muslims.
"Instead of being accused of the events in our war, I should be rewarded for all the good things I have done," he said through a court interpreter. "I did everything humanly possible to avoid the war. ... I succeeded in reducing the suffering of all civilians."
Prosecutors have painted a different picture of Karadzic during months of evidence, portraying him as a political leader who masterminded Serb atrocities throughout the war, from campaigns of persecution and murder of Muslims and Croats early in 1992 to the conflict's bloody climax, the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the supposedly UN-protected Srebrenica enclave.
Karadzic, 67, who looked relaxed and cheerful in court as he read his statement from a text, denied that portrait of him. "Everybody who knows me knows I am not an autocrat, I am not aggressive, I am not intolerant," he told judges. "On the contrary, I am a mild man, a tolerant man with great capacity to understand others."
He also said some of the worst atrocities of the war, including two deadly shelling attacks on a Sarajevo marketplace in 1994 and 1995, were "orchestrated" to turn public opinion against Serbs.
Karadzic boycotted the start of his trial in October 2009 saying he had not been given enough time to prepare. The first witness did not testify until April 2010 and prosecutors rested their case on May 25 this year. He faces 10 charges, including one genocide count relating to the Srebrenica massacre.