Karadzic Extradited to The Hague to Face War Crimes Charges

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic faces genocide charges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal after his arrest in Belgrade in July 2008.
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

THE HAGUE, July 30 -- Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader facing genocide and other charges for his role in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, was flown here early Wednesday to face a U.N war crimes tribunal after the Serbian government ordered his extradition, officials in Belgrade said.

Karadzic was captured last week after more than a decade in hiding and had been jailed in Belgrade while a Serbian war crimes court awaited a mailed appeal challenging his transfer. But no legal papers arrived by Tuesday evening, and the Serbian justice ministry issued a decree that allowed his handover to the Netherlands.

Under cover of night Wednesday morning, Karadzic was whisked by masked secret service agents to a plane bound for the Netherlands, officials said. The plane landed shortly after dawn in Rotterdam, where police helicopters and vans with tinted windows were waiting to transport Karadzic to The Hague.

Karadzic will be held in a detention center here. In the coming days he will appear briefly before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where he will have the opportunity to respond to the charges he faces. A trial is not expected to begin for several months.

The extradition followed a rally by several thousand hard-line nationalists in Belgrade on Tuesday evening. It was marked by clashes between small groups of stone-throwing extremists and riot police who used tear gas and fired rubber bullets.

The rally, estimated by police at 15,000, failed to attract anywhere near the numbers of people who flooded central Belgrade in February after the Serbian province Kosovo declared independence. That protest drew about 100,000; a group of extremists attacked and set fire to the U.S. Embassy.

As Karadzic continued to wait in a Belgrade jail Tuesday, a war crimes court in neighboring Bosnia convicted seven fellow Bosnian Serbs of genocide for their roles in mass killings in the city of Srebrenica in 1995, a time when Karadzic was their political leader.

A panel of judges in Sarajevo had heard evidence that the former policemen rounded up 1,000 people who were machine-gunned or killed by grenades in a warehouse after their surrender. The court sentenced them to 38 to 42 years in prison. Four other men were found not guilty, the Associated Press reported.

The convictions were the first by a Bosnian court relating to the Srebrenica killings, Europe's worst massacre since World War II. Karadzic faces Srebrenica-related charges in The Hague, as does Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, who remains at large.

Many of the people who protested in Belgrade on Tuesday were bused into the capital. They listened to speeches by Serbian Radical Party leaders, who accused President Boris Tadic and the country's pro-Western government of treachery because of their plans to send Karadzic to The Hague.

"Thank you for showing that Serbia is not dead, although it is being killed by Boris Tadic," said Aleksandar Vucic, a party leader. "Thieves and bandits are ruling Serbia."

The failure of the party to galvanize the same kind of anger over Karadzic as swept the country because of Kosovo will be a relief to the government, which views the arrest of the Bosnian Serb fugitive as a significant step on the country's path to membership in the European Union.

The Serbian Radical Party had billed Tuesday's rally as a measure of strength, but it was more a testament to its dwindling appeal and Karadzic's irrelevance for a majority of Serbs. Opinion polls show that a clear majority of the country's population wants to join the E.U. and end the country's economically debilitating isolation.

Thousands of riot police were deployed in central Belgrade, and Tadic warned the nationalists that while they had the right to assemble, violence would not be tolerated. The U.S. Embassy was guarded by anti-terrorist troops.

"It's embarrassing that the West and powerful countries are trying to pressure Serbia," said Violetta Bojovic, 32, an economist who attended the rally. "I came to support my country and Radovan Karadzic."

Karadzic, who disguised himself in Belgrade as a bearded alternative health guru, faces 11 charges at The Hague. They involve complicity in the siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the summary execution of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, a U.N. haven that was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces.

Special correspondent Selena Petrovic in Belgrade contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company