Bosnian Serb Captured; Sought for War Crimes

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MOSCOW, July 22 -- Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader indicted by a U.N. war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, was captured in Serbia on Monday. The arrest ends a decade-long manhunt that had repeatedly frustrated his Western pursuers and left festering one of the most murderous chapters in Europe's post-World War II history.

The office of Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a statement that Karadzic, who has been in hiding since 1997, was arrested Monday evening "in an action by Serbian security services."

It was unclear whether the arrest came about because of an investigative breakthrough or because political conditions were finally right in Serbia, which has a new pro-Western government that seeks to close the door on the conflicts of the 1990s. Significant numbers of Serbs still see Karadzic as a hero who defended their ethnic group from war-time rivals, so the arrest is likely to bring political pressure on Tadic at home. But it will also remove a major obstacle to Serbia's eventual entry into the European Union.

One of the world's most-wanted men, Karadzic was president of ethnic Serbs in Bosnia, who besieged the city of Sarajevo for more than three years and helped plunge the Balkans into a paroxysm of violence as the former Yugoslavia fell apart following communism's collapse.

Karadzic, a former psychiatrist and an amateur poet known for a wavy mane of silver hair, is accused of organizing the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica when forces under his leadership overran a U.N. safe area and then summarily executed men and boys who had sought refuge there.

"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade," said Serge Brammertz, lead prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, which said that the date of Karadzic's extradition there would be determined "in due course."

"It is also an important day for international justice, because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice."

Karadzic, 63, is believed to have been constantly on the move in recent years, shifting between hideaways in Serbia and the ethnic Serb part of Bosnia, where NATO- and European Union-led forces staged repeated unsuccessful raids in an effort to capture him. Militant Serb nationalists apparently shielded the man who was said to have disguised himself as an Orthodox priest to gain sanctuary in monasteries.

Year after year, Karadzic outfoxed his infuriated pursuers. In 2005, a book of his poetry, titled "Under the Left Breast of the Century," was published in Serbia. And he outlived his onetime sponsor, Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav president, who died in a prison cell in The Hague in 2006 while on trial on war crimes charges.

The White House praised the arrest. "We congratulate the Government of Serbia, and thank the people who conducted this operation for their professionalism and courage," it said in a statement. "This operation is an important demonstration of the Serbian government's determination to honor its commitment to cooperate" with the U.N. court.

Former U.S. assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia, welcomed the capture of a man he described as "a real, true architect of mass murder."

"This guy in my view was worse than Milosevic," Holbrooke said, speaking on CNN. "He was the intellectual leader."

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