Damning wiretap evidence of Radovan Karadzic discussing the mass slaughter of 300,000 Muslims was unveiled today at the genocide trial of the former Bosnian Serb leader.

To an array of empty desks reserved for Karadzic and his defense team - who has boycotted his trial in The Hague - the prosecution began its opening statement by quoting the words uttered by Karadzic on the eve of the Bosnian conflict - the bloodiest seen in Europe since the Second World War.

"The time has come," Alan Tieger, the prosecutor, quoted Karadzic as telling the Bosnian Serb Parliament, as he signed the order to recapture Zepa and Srebrenica - the United Nations safe haven where Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys.

Mr Tieger then revealed evidence from a series of recorded phone calls from 1991 in which Mr Karadzic chillingly considered the fate of Sarajevo, the multi-ethnic Bosnian capital which Serb forces besieged for 44 months.

The phone taps record Mr Karadzic saying: "They have to know that there are 20,000 armed Serbs around Sarajevo.... it will be a black cauldron where 300,000 Muslims will die. They will disappear. That people will disappear from the face of the earth."

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