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COURTSIDE: Karadzic Charges Cut

New Karadzic indictment intended to ease prosecution of the former Bosnian Serb leader.
By Chris Stephen

Prosecutors have slashed many of the charges facing war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic to ensure a speedy trial once he’s eventually brought to justice.

A number of murder charges against the former Bosnian Serb leader have been dropped, but the gravest counts, including genocide, remain.

Prosecution lawyers hope the merger of two indictments against The Hague indictee - cutting the number of counts from 36 to 11 – could also allow his case to be joined with those of his wartime allies.

The combination of the charges, issued seven years ago, took place in 2000 but was kept under wraps until this week so as not to jeopardise efforts to arrest Karadzic and other Bosnian Serb suspects.

Karadzic remains charged with responsibility for three of the most notorious crimes of the Bosnian war – the ethnic cleansing of much of Bosnia, the siege of Sarajevo, and the massacre of 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica.

Karadzic is jointly charged with the former Bosnian Serb army commander, General Ratko Mladic. The counts against the latter are unchanged.

Prosecutors first indicted Karadzic in July 1995, with the Bosnian war still raging, but subsequent investigations led them to post new charges in November of that year.

Both he and Mladic have been on the run since 1997, when, starting in July of that year, NATO commandos launched the first of a series of raids to arrest war crimes suspects.

The most recent attempt to detain Karadzic took place in the spring of this year, with commandos sealing off villages near Bosnia’s southern border with Montenegro. But the former psychologist and poet again managed to evade capture.

Mladic is believed to be in hiding in Yugoslavia. Until the fall of former federal president Slobodan Milosevic, the general lived in comfort in a villa in Belgrade. He is said to retain the support of the Yugoslav army.

Karadzic’s new indictment accuses him of all four war crimes charges – genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Eighteen counts of murder have been cut, but the judge who oversaw the merger in 2000, Patricia Wald, wrote at the time, “The factual allegations underlying these charges have simply been shifted to support the remaining counts.”

Prosecutors say they have combined the indictments because it would mean a speedier move to trial, and would also allow a possible joining of the Karadzic case with other indictments against former Bosnian Serb leaders.

Prosecution spokesmen would not say why they had reduced the number of charges against Karadzic and not Mladic.

The new indictment was agreed by Hague judges in 2000, but was kept secret until October 14, apparently in case it undermined the cases of other Bosnian Serb leaders.

“I have been satisfied by the prosecutor’s presentation on the need for confidentiality at this stage, given that publicity relating to the amendment may jeopardise the arrest of Radovan Karadzic or other Bosnian Serb leaders mentioned in the indictment,” wrote Wald.

Why such a move would threaten Karadzic’s arrest, or those of his wartime allies, was not made clear.

Chris Stephen is IWPR's Hague correspondent and project manager.

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