After more than a decade on the run, Radovan Karadzic (photo), Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect and one of the world’s most wanted man, has been arrested on Monday, near Belgrade, the Serbian capital. He disappeared in 1996, after being the Bosnian Serb wartime political leader.
Over the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica, he has been indicted by the UN tribunal for war crimes and genocide.
The way for his arrest appears to have been cleared by the appointment of a new, pro-European government in Belgrade last month. It hopes to join the EU, which has put Serbia under considerable pressure to hand over indicted war criminals to the UN tribunal in The Hague.
Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said a major obstacle to Serbian membership had been lifted.
‘Working in a clinic’
When he was arrested, Mr Karadzic was practising alternative medicine in a private clinic in Belgrade, in a “very convincing disguise”, sporting a long white beard, and calling himself Dragan Dabic, a Serb official said. He was living as a non-Serbian citizen, using false papers.
“The fact that he was involved with alternative medicine, earning his money from practising alternative medicine, shows that he worked. He was working in a private practice and the last place where he had residence was New Belgrade”, said Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister for relations with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, at a news conference in Belgrade.
“[Mr Karadzic] walked around freely, even appeared in public places. The people who rented him the apartment did not know his true identity”, said Svetozar Vujacic, Mr Karadzic’s lawyer.
In The Hague, war crimes prosecutors welcomed the arrest of Radovan Karadzic as a “milestone”.
Brought before Belgrade’s war crimes court, he may soon be extradited, though it is not clear how soon he might be transferred to stand trial at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, says the BBC’s Bridget Kendall.
He will stay put for at least three days, suggested Serbian officials, while his lawyer appeals against his extradition.
Until Tuesday morning, when the action team of prosecutors, police and intelligence teams meet in Belgrade, no further information about his detention would be released, said officials.
“Radovan Karadzic was located and arrested tonight [Monday evening]“ by Serbian security officers, a statement by the office of President Boris Tadic said, without giving details.
“Karadzic was brought to the investigative judge of the War Crimes Court in Belgrade, in accordance with the law on co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [ICTY].”
Officials added that certain people, who had been helping Mr Karadzic, had been under surveillance for some time. But in order not to jeopardise efforts to arrest two other war crime suspects on the run, including Ratko Mladic, Mr Karadzic’s wartime military leader, the authorities did not want to reveal any more details of the Monday evening operation.
But Mr Vujacic said he had been detained “on Friday in a bus” and held till he was brought before the judge of Serbia’s war crimes court for questioning, during which he was said to have remained silent.
Apparently fearing a backlash from nationalists, who consider Mr Karadzic a hero, heavily armed special forces were deployed around the war crimes court in Belgrade.
“He did not surrender, that is not his style”, his brother, Luka Karadzic, said outside the court.
The arrest has been welcomed by Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the ICTY.
“This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade”, he said in a statement in The Hague.
‘Osama Bin Laden of Europe’
News of the arrest has been celebrated in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, where crowds split onto the streets, as cars streamed through the streets sounding their horns.
“This is the best thing that could ever happen, you see people celebrating everywhere. I called and woke up my whole family”, Sarajevo resident Fadil Bico told Reuters.
“A major, major thug has been removed from the public scene”, Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who brokered the Dayton Peace Accord for Bosnia in 1995, told the BBC.
He added that “one of the worst men in the world, the Osama Bin Laden of Europe, has finally been captured”.
Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, wife of Radovan Karadzic, said her daughter had called her to break news of the arrest to her. “As the phone rang, I knew something was wrong. I’m shocked, confused. At least now, we know he is alive”, she told the Associated Press.
Soon after the first indictment, Mr Karadzic denied the charges against him and refused to recognise the legitimacy of the UN tribunal.
In July 1995, at least 7 500 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica (photo, from guardian.co.uk) have been killed by Mr Karadzic’s forces, as part of a campaign to “terrorise and demoralise the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat population”, says the UN.
He was also charged over the shelling of Sarajevo, and the use of 284 UN peacekeepers as human shields in May and June 1995.
In 1995, the Bosnian war ended with the Dayton accord, and the former nationalist president went into hiding. He is thought to have hidden in Serb controlled parts of Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.
In spring 2005, when several of his former generals surrendered, and a video of Bosnian Serb soldiers shooting captives from Srebrenica shocked television viewers in former Yugoslavia, international pressure to catch Mr Karadzic mounted.
He had been a close ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, extradited to The Hague tribunal in 2001. He died in 2006, shortly before a verdict was due to be delivered in his case.