Global Policy Forum

Hunt for Balkan Fugitives Mounts


By Brian Whitmore

Boston Globe
July 29, 2004

For Bosnians, rumors that Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are about to be captured often seem like tales of Elvis sightings: Everybody has heard them, few believe them. But this time, many here think the rumors just might be true. The two most-wanted men in the Balkans have eluded capture for nearly a decade. But with NATO scheduled to wind up its nine-year peacekeeping mission here in December, there has been a concerted push in recent months by international and local officials to apprehend Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb president, and Mladic, his top military commander.

The two have been indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against Muslims during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. International officials recently have put severe pressure on Bosnian Serb authorities suspected of protecting Karadzic and other indicted war criminals -- freezing bank accounts and firing uncooperative members of the government. Serb leaders here also have indicated that the costs of harboring war crimes fugitives now outweigh any perceived political benefits, and have demonstrated a new level of cooperation in helping to apprehend them, international officials say.

In recent weeks, moreover, speculation in the Bosnian news media has reached a fever pitch that the two, sensing the end is near, might be prepared to surrender. The reports could not be independently confirmed. Last month, chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte bolstered the speculation, pledging that Karadzic ''will be arrested very soon. Of course, I have [information], but you all understand that I cannot tell it now publicly." In a recent interview, a senior Western official in Bosnia acknowledged that ''we go through periods where we get excited." ''But right now," he added, ''through the conjunction of many things, it looks like something is afoot."

For Bosnia's Muslims, who are officially called Bosniaks, Karadzic and Mladic are considered terrorists and murderers of innocents, in much the same way that Osama bin Laden is seen by Americans. Most notoriously, the two are charged with masterminding what many consider the war's most heinous act: the Srebrenica massacre. In July 1995, Serb militias entered Srebrenica, which had been declared a United Nations ''safe area," and rounded up and systematically killed about 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys. It was the worst case of mass killing in Europe since the Holocaust. Overall, more than 200,000 people were killed in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 when Serb and Croat militias waged a brutal campaign of ''ethnic cleansing" against the nation's Muslims, who were the war's principal victims.

The US-sponsored Dayton Peace Accord ended the war in 1995, dividing the country into the Serb Republic and a Bosniak-Croat Federation. The two were united under a weak central government. The accords also established a NATO-led peacekeeping force and an international overseer for Bosnia with broad powers. Since the Dayton accord, Bosnia has made amazing strides toward stability. The ethnic violence has ended; there is freedom of movement throughout the country and about 1 million refugees have reclaimed their homes. In December, the NATO troops will be replaced by a peacekeeping force led by the European Union.

But with Karadzic and Mladic at large, a sense of closure remains elusive. Karadzic is widely thought to be hiding in Bosnia's Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska, where he remains popular. Mladic is thought to be in neighboring Serbia-Montenegro. In the early period of the NATO mission here, when Karadzic and Mladic were widely thought to be in the wartime Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, peacekeepers adhered to a policy of apprehending suspected war criminals only if they happened across the suspects during their normal duties. Since then, NATO troops have become considerably more proactive in seeking out indicted war criminals, but the fugitives have become more adept at staying hidden. ''There is a sense of unfinished business," said Senad Slatina, an analyst for the Sarajevo office of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.

It was, in fact, the unfinished business of Karadzic and Mladic that prevented Bosnia from achieving its long-held goal of winning an invitation to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the alliance's summit in Istanbul last month. Membership in the program is seen as the first step toward full NATO membership, to which many Bosnians aspire. In Istanbul, the alliance singled out ''obstructionist elements in the Republika Srpska" for not turning over indicted war criminals, and made it clear that Bosnia would not join Partnership for Peace until this changed.

United Nations High Representative Paddy Ashdown, the international official in charge of administering postwar Bosnia, quickly seized on NATO's decision to lean on Bosnian Serb authorities. ''Radovan Karadzic bears much personal responsibility for what happened to this country in the early 1990s," Ashdown said in a statement released last month. ''His capture or surrender is not only required by law and necessary for justice, it is the key act of closure on the past which has to happen before Bosnia-Herzegovina can really start building its future." On June 30, Ashdown used his broad powers to summarily dismiss 59 Bosnian Serb officials for not cooperating in capturing indicted war criminals. Of the 59 officials, 12 also were barred permanently from political activity; the rest would be allowed to reenter public life after Karadzic is apprehended. Ashdown also moved against the Serb Democratic Party, the dominant party in Republika Srpska's ruling coalition, which is suspected of helping to finance Karadzic. Ashdown froze the party's various regional bank accounts, ordered the party to open one main account that can easily be audited, and withheld all public campaign funds pending Karadzic's capture. ''There is no lack of will to go and find these people," said British Navy Lieutenant Commander Mark Hope, a spokesman for Stabilization Force, or SFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force. ''We would like to get them today."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on Radovan Karadzic
More Information on Ratko Mladic
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia


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