AIM: start

THU, 15 NOV 2001 18:04:38 GMT

Karadzic Isnít Losing any Sleep

Who Is In Charge of the Arrest Operation?

AIM Sarajevo, November 5, 2001

Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague with war crimes, have no reason for fear. Arresting them and bringing them to justice is not a priority of the international community. The head of the U.N. Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, general and diplomat Jacques Paul Klein said at a panel discussion organized by Krug 99, a group of independent intellectuals, in Sarajevo on Oct. 28, that his mission has no order to arrest them. A day earlier, the Bijeljina-based Ekstra Magazin newspaper carried a story in which it said, quoting an unnamed diplomat, that the Americans (Klein) are in fact guarding Karadzic, and that the Russians are guarding Gen. Mladic. The news media in Bosnia immediately revived old rumor, asking whether "the West and NATO are acting in cahoots with Karadzic" (Banjaluka-based Nezavisne Novine paper). There is also speculation that the question of Islamic terrorism has completely pushed aside the search for the two most wanted fugitives (Sarajevo-based Oslobodjenje).

Gen. Klein's two most recent public appearances -- at the Krug 99 discussion and the BBC Hardtalk show -- have shown that the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb leaders is exclusively limited to the sphere of rhetoric, giving credibility to speculation that deals with the great powers, primarily the U.S., are quite possible. What are people actually talking about? The Bijeljina paper, quoting an anonymous diplomatic source, said that U.S. mediator Richard Holbrooke in May 1996 guaranteed Karadzic that he would not be arrested if he handed over power peacefully and withdrew from public life. "He kept his promise, and so did we," Holbrooke allegedly said. Klein was also mentioned, as the official in charge of Karadzic's security. Ekstra Magazin explains the international community's lack of motivation to apprehend Gen. Mladic in the following manner: "Ever since the Hague tribunal indicted Gen. Mladic, Russian diplomats and ground agents have been making a great effort to prevent him from reaching The Hague. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Russians are guarding Mladic in the same way the Americans are guarding Karadzic."

It is hard to determine whether this story is just another version of the one mentioned above. Last spring, Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, a Croatian opposition politician and former chairman of the Croatian Helsinki Committee, after a meeting with Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana Zelen Karadzic, in Pale, told the same version of the story. International news services later carried Holbrooke's denial, calling the rumor nonsense and stressing that the U.S. had no reason to make political deals of that kind.

Six years have elapsed since their indictments were published, and the two most wanted fugitives from international justice are still at large. Meanwhile, diplomat and NATO generals alike have offered a host of excuses. First they said such an operation was very risky, they claimed a special police unit guarding Karadzic numbered about 700 people. Then they said Karadzic was paying his bodyguards and was running out of money, and then they claimed that his whereabouts were undetermined. Mladic was said to have been spotted at soccer matches in Belgrade, or beaches in Montenegro, while Milosevic was still in power. This summer and autumn the office of ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte said Mladic was being guarded by Republika Srpska military police. Newspapers reported of legendary secret hideouts. When compared, these stories placed them simultaneously at four or five locations in Republika Srpska -- in Visegrad, Tjentiste, a monastery near Cajnice, Trebinje, and the forests of Mt. Zelengora.

Is it possible that in a country where international forces are in charge of all military facilities, control all roads and electronic communications, and in which as yet another Casablanca albeit not on a movie screen, all major intelligence agencies (American, Russian, British, German, French, as well as a number of others) are operating unhidered, their refuge cannot be discovered. When over 60,000 NATO troops were deployed in Bosnia and when all roads were rife with checkpoints, Karadzic traveled from Pale to Banjaluka, a route some 350 kilometers long. The generals replied: "Soldiers could not recognize him"! A five million dollar reward for any information leading to the arrest of Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic, also failed in producing results. It is hard to believe that in the Balkans, where people are killed for much less, no one seemed interested in getting rich by just by picking up the receiver and dialing a phone number. It has to be that numerous wanted posters put up at all police stations in Bosnia and neighboring Serbia and published in numerous newspapers, weren't really trusted. Who could have come forth with any new information anyway when the whole world knew, for instance, where Milosevic's residences were located -- the official one on Uziccka Street and his private home on Tolstojeva. Leaving his post of SFOR commander, Gen. Michael Dodson made a spectacular statement announcing that Karadzic and Mladic could be swiftly arrested, and that investigators could pinpoint the exact location where they were hiding at. His successor, Gen. John Silvester, two weeks ago denied this by saying that "SFOR still has no knowledge of that location, but as soon as it learns of it, it will launch an arrest operation." That the location is no secret was partly confirmed by Carla del Ponte during her two visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina in March and September this year. Then, she told RS President Mirko Sarovic that Karadzic was in touch with Serb Democratic Party officials who are part of the RS government.

All this shows that the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic has never been anywhere near the top of the international community's to-do list. According to what Klein says, the U.N. mission (which is actually in charge of the local police) is, unlike local police, not in charge of such an operation. The RS police do not want to do it, and those who can -- SFOR troops -- will arrest the suspects only if they run into them.

Thus, for instance, if Karadzic and Mladic tried to hitch a ride on an SFOR armored vehicle, provided ID and showed no intention to endanger the soldiers' lives, they could be arrested. Meanwhile, Republika Srpska passed a bill on cooperation with the Hague court, but the interior minister has no plans to take the law in his hands and venture into the woods, looking for Karadzic. When asked where the two suspects are, Sarovic replied with ultimate coolness: "I have no idea." RS Premier Mladen Ivanic says he will resign if the police fail to uphold the law, but this is no guarantee that the two warlords will indeeed be brought to justice. At this moment, all of Republika Srpska is a collective accomplice of Karadzic and Mladic.

Which is to say that the only force capable of arresting them is SFOR. Pledges that the two will be arrested "if SFOR encounters the suspects" are nonsense. In past operations in Prijedor, Bijeljina, Banjaluka, Brcko, Foca and Pale SFOR did not happen to encounter the suspects, but had planned the operations in advance. When they wanted to, they made arrests. And this is where we return to the beginning of our story. A decision on the arrest needs to be made in Washington, Paris and Brussels (the Russians should only be notified), and a clear order issued to the troops on the ground. But this is not happening. The host of the BBC Hardtalk show, Tim Sebastian, asked Klein: "There is something fishy about it, isn't there?" And Klein replied: "I agree," showing that rumors of political deals should not be so easily discarded. In their hideouts Karadzic and Mladic can peacefully watch CNN and its coverage of the war against terrorism, while writing their memoirs. What's more, they could freely claim they were at the forefront of the anti-terrorism coalition as early as 1992!

Emir Habul