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Genocide suspect had long evaded justice

Monday’s capture of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and one of the world’s most wanted men, ended a 13-year manhunt for a genocide suspect said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities.
Image: Radovan Karadzic
Bosnian Serb wartime President Radovan Karadzic, shown here in 1995, was arrested Monday.Ranko Cukovic / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

He was accused of masterminding massacres that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."

Monday’s capture of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and one of the world’s most wanted men, ended a 13-year manhunt for a genocide suspect said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities.

The arrest announcement from Serbian President Boris Tadic’s office was stunning: Although authorities had been said to be closing in on Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was also indicted in 1995 for genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Karadzic’s whereabouts had been a mystery for years — and many had all but given up hope of his ever being brought to justice.

Karadzic’s reported hideouts included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Over the years, newspaper reports said he occasionally disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his silver mane and donning a brown cassock.

Traveled in ambulances
With NATO-led peacekeepers under orders to arrest him on sight, associates said he sometimes traveled in ambulances with flashing lights to zip through NATO checkpoints undetected to spend time with his wife, Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic; daughter, Sonja; and son, Aleksandar Sasa, in the Bosnian town of Pale, the wartime Bosnian Serb capital.

But his wife surprised the public in July 2005 when she appealed to her husband to come out of hiding and surrender "for the sake of your family." Within a week, his son said publicly that he believed everyone responsible for war crimes must face justice, "even if it is my own father."

Karadzic reportedly also visited his sick mother in the mountains of neighboring Montenegro and in 2002 went to Budva on that former Yugoslav republic’s Adriatic coast.

Those in his inner circle even claimed a disguised Karadzic once sneaked into Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital that his troops shelled relentlessly for three years, and had coffee with his friends in a downtown cafe.

Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews made big news during the 3½-year Bosnian war, unleashed after ethnic Serbs revolted against the republic’s 1992 decision to break away from Yugoslavia.

His life had changed greatly by the time the war ended in late 1995. An estimated 250,000 people were dead and 1.8 million more had been driven from their homes — and Karadzic was a hunted man.

Isolated and vulnerable
Indicted twice by the U.N. tribunal on genocide charges, his isolation and vulnerability grew as the years passed without any sign that the world was ready to forgive his alleged crimes against Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.

Born June 19, 1945, to a poor rural family in Montenegro, Karadzic trained as a psychiatrist and moved to Sarajevo with his wife and two children in the 1960s, where he also treated members of a city soccer club.

He regularly played high-stakes poker with his Muslim and Croat neighbors — feeding a gambling passion that he later pursued in the casinos of Geneva while the Bosnian Serb leader. There, between shopping sprees for gold watches and designer suits, Karadzic spent months in futile, whisky-laden talks with international mediators trying to end Bosnia’s war.

That future seemed far off when the flamboyant Karadzic, a sometime poet and enthusiastic player of a single-string Serbian instrument known as the "gusle," entered politics in 1989 as head of the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party.

As communism collapsed in Yugoslavia, rabid nationalism devoured the old Balkan federation, causing its bloody disintegration and a land grab by its two main ethnic groups, the Serbs and the Croats.

Karadzic’s party, with crucial help from his patron, the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, mobilized Serbs in Bosnia in 1992 against the republic’s Muslims and Croats, who wanted to break away from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

Soon, Serb artillery was pounding Sarajevo and Serb fighters expelled hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats while seizing 70 percent of Bosnia.

Guided by a vision
Guided by a vision of uniting Bosnian Serbs with neighboring Serbia, Karadzic turned bitter in early 1993 when Milosevic tried to coax him into a settlement.

Before the 1995 Dayton accords that finally ended the war, Karadzic gave way only once — in May 1993 — agreeing to peace after intense negotiations held in Greece. But he then crossed Milosevic.

By 1994, Serbia’s leader had — publicly, at least — severed all ties with and supplies to Karadzic’s fiefdom. By 1995, Karadzic had lost the right to negotiate for the Serbs, in part because the two indictments by the war crimes tribunal meant he could not travel.

In July 1995, Karadzic was indicted for genocide, together with Mladic, his military commander. Both were charged with instigating systematic murder, torture, imprisonment and expulsion of non-Serbs.

Atrocities in the indictment included shelling civilian targets, a deadly sniper campaign against civilians in Sarajevo, taking U.N. peacekeepers hostage and setting up brutal prison camps.

In November 1995, Karadzic and Mladic again were indicted for the massacre of thousands of Muslim men after Bosnian Serb troops captured the U.N. "safe area" of Srebrenica.

Karadzic was charged with authorizing the attack on Srebrenica, which came to be known as Europe’s worst slaughter of civilians since World War II. The indictment described the Srebrenica bloodshed as "truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."

Forced to step down
Karadzic was forced to step down as the Bosnian Serbs’ leader in July 1996, replaced by his deputy, Biljana Plavsic. Before her own day in court at the U.N. tribunal for Yugoslavia, she revealed details of the vast wealth accumulated by Karadzic and his allies by smuggling alcohol, fuel and cigarettes during and after the war.

Undaunted, Karadzic wielded influence from the shadows and flaunted his determination to stay in charge of Bosnia’s postwar Serb republic. But the emergence of a new, pro-Western Bosnian Serb government deprived him of much of his popularity.

In 2003, Bosnia’s top international official at the time, Paddy Ashdown, ordered the bank accounts and other assets of Karadzic’s wife, son, daughter and brother frozen because of suspicion they were helping him evade capture.

Even so, posters of Karadzic emblazoned with the words "Don’t touch him!" popped up around the Balkans — plastered by supporters who still considered him a hero.

"Every Serb house shall be his hiding place and every true Serb his ally," a local poet, Dragoljub Scekic, once proclaimed.

Despite the scattered support, Karadzic — wary of stepped-up talk that he must be arrested and brought to justice — remained a ghost. After September 1996, he was rarely seen in public.