The Healer and the War Criminal The Double Life of Radovan Karadzic

By Renate Flottau in Belgrade

Part 3: International Community Showed Little Interest in Search


Most Serbs are convinced that those who were looking for Karadzic could have arrested him long ago. Serbian intelligence agents are believed to have known his whereabouts for at least several weeks leading up to his arrest. Socialist Party leader Ivica Dacic, who recently became a member of the Belgrade coalition government and was named interior minister, is convinced that Karadzic was under observation for months.

However, it is obvious that Serbian President Boris Tadic wanted to wait until the new intelligence chief, Sasa Vukadinovic, a man loyal to the new leader, had been sworn in before arresting Karadzic. The former Bosnian Serb leader was taken into custody four days after Vukadinovic assumed his new post. On a Thursday evening almost two weeks ago, some intelligence agents apparently informed the fugitive that he was no longer under the protection of the state security agency. After that, Karadzic promptly bought a bus ticket to the Croatian city of Split, hoping to escape capture by Serbian authorities. But by then it was too late.

There are various accounts of where and when the 63-year-old war crimes suspect was arrested. Vujacic, his attorney, claims that his client was taken into custody on July 18, at about 9:30 p.m., as he was sitting on Bus No. 73 from Belgrade to Batajinica -- and not, as the official account reads, three days later. He was apparently carrying €600 ($930) to pay for a short stay in Vrdnik, a spa resort in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. Witnesses now claim to have watched six men board the bus and forcefully remove Karadzic, saying: "Be quiet, old man. We have been observing you for 15 days now."

Karadzic apparently told his attorney that he could only have lasted another six months, and that he had planned to turn himself in to Serbian authorities in January 2009. By that time, or so he believed, his case would no longer fall under the jurisdiction of The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, but under that of Serbian courts.

But how did Dr. Karadzic become Dr. Dabic? The Serbian Interior Ministry has confirmed that Serbian intelligence helped him acquire his new identity. His identification papers were issued on April 20, 1999, at Ruma in Vojvodina, the home of the real Dragan Dabic, a married construction worker who was born in 1942 and has two children.

A Warning to Washington

The Bosnian Serb leader apparently lived in Belgrade for only the last two years. Before that, he must have traveled back and forth, unhindered, between his true native Montenegro and Bosnia and Serbia. The newspaper Nedelnji Telegraf is firmly convinced that the CIA and the Serbian intelligence agency hid Karadzic and were also behind his arrest. In other words, foreign intelligence agencies were apparently not overly interested in capturing Karadzic for a long time.

Before withdrawing from political life in 1996, Karadzic warned that Washington should be concerned if he were brought before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, a possibly allusion to the massacre of Srebrenica. In July 1995, the city was the site of the Serb killing of 8,000 Muslim men. Bosnian media have long speculated whether the attack on Srebrenica may have been preceded by secret agreements, meaning that the Western protective power deliberately chose not to intervene.

Former Bosnian Foreign Minister Mohammed Sacirbey claims that in the spring of 1995 US peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke repeatedly pressured the Bosnian leadership in Sarajevo to voluntarily abandon the UN Protected Zones of Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde -- areas that should have gone to the Serbian Republika Srpska when the republic was divided according to the Dayton Peace Agreement. Holbrooke, for his part, categorically denies having made any assurances to Karadzic in return for his later withdrawal from politics.

One thing is clear, however: The international community in Bosnia showed little enthusiasm in the search for Karadzic. US Admiral Leighton Smith, the former head of the IFOR peacekeeping force, wasn't the only commander to admit that he did not actively pursue men being sought by The Hague War Crimes Tribunal, including Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic, who remains at large today -- to avoid further destabilizing the situation in Bosnia.

This is apparently no longer a serious threat. Even in Serbia, protests last week over Karadzic's arrest remained modest. The presumed war criminal's extradition to the tribunal in The Hague will be worthwhile for Belgrade in the long term, says Ivan Vejvoda, executive director of the Balkan Trust for Democracy. Although the European Union rejected the easing or trade sanctions on Serbia last week -- thanks to the objections of the Dutch and the Belgians -- if Serbia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels goes into effect, Belgrade stands to receive significant financial assistance.

Like former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic plans to defend himself before the tribunal that he once described, in an interview with SPIEGEL, as a "disgrace for the international community." Now that he has shaved off his beard, says his attorney Vujacic, alternative medicine practitioner Dabic has ceased to exist.

Perhaps Karadzic's military chief Mladic will also soon turn up at the UN detention unit in Scheveningen outside The Hague before the trial begins. After last week's success, Serbian President Boris Tadic could very well be tempted to remove the last obstacle on Serbia's road to EU membership.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

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