Cutting Karadzic's Financial Lifeline

Economic measures may assist efforts to capture the wartime Bosnian Serb chief.

Cutting Karadzic's Financial Lifeline

Economic measures may assist efforts to capture the wartime Bosnian Serb chief.

Western officials hope that a new plan to restrict the money flow that funds Radovan Karadzic's support network and pays for his fugitive lifestyle may finally bring the ex-Bosnian Serb leader to justice.

Karadzic is wanted by The Hague tribunal on charges of genocide, but despite the might of NATO's military and intelligence network he has managed to evade international justice for more than six years. Tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has said several times that Karadzic and his bodyguards are hiding in the remote and inaccessible mountains of eastern Bosnia-Hercegovina, close to the border with Serbia and Montenegro.

Paddy Ashdown, the West's High Representative in Bosnia and its most senior official, recently announced the plan to disrupt the finances of Karadzic's supporters. However, Oleg Millisic, spokesman for the Office of the High Representative, OHR, refused to reveal concrete details on how this will be implemented.

Money is already a weapon in the hunt for Karadzic. Pierre Richard Prosper, US Ambassador at large for War Crimes, promised American material and technical help in the operation. In his visit to Bosnia on January 23, Prosper revealed that more than 200,000 US dollars have already been paid from the five million dollars fund set up by the US to pay for information that would lead to Karadzic's arrest.

Prosper refused to provide details on the identity of the person or persons who collected the money. But revealing that such leads exist is also a means of increasing psychological pressure on Karadzic and his network of supporters, as it shows some are prepared to talk for monetary reward.

The arrest of Karadzic is increasingly seen as an important step towards the normalisation of Bosnia. Along with Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic, Karadzic is one of The Hague's two most wanted indictees. By continuing to elude the strongest military force in the world, he is exposing NATO and its Stabilisation Force, SFOR, in Bosnia-Hercegovina and the rest of the international community to ridicule.

SFOR has already tried and failed to capture Karadzic. In the first and only publicly confirmed operation of its kind, SFOR troops supported by helicopters and armoured vehicles descended on the small eastern town of Foca before dawn on February 28, 2002. The operation finished the same afternoon without results. SFOR has several times since blocked roads and checked traffic in an attempt to find the former Bosnian Serb leader, but without success.

NATO and other western officials often cite "lack of political will" in Republika Srpska, RS, as the main reason for Karadzic's success in eluding justice. Bosnian Serb officials usually claim they have no clue about Karadzic's whereabouts. Last week, the new RS interior minister Zoran Djeric went a step further and claimed that Karadzic was not in the entity at all. But most local and western analysts are convinced that Bosnian Serb officials would never arrest their wartime leader - even if they knew where he was hiding.

Few believe that the new tactics will eventually lead to Karadzic's arrest. The general inefficiency of previous attempts to bring him to justice, and the fact that despite the five million dollars reward, Karadzic remains at liberty speak louder for many than the new initiative.

Attempts to shut down his supporters' economic network are also hindered by the fact that Bosnia's financial system is unregulated, extremely complicated and divided between the country's two entities, RS and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Nevertheless, during 2001 western agencies had some success tapping into the financial networks of al-Qaeda in Bosnia. Bosnian authorities acted on the information supplied to them, and moved against the list of companies suspected of channeling funds for the extremist network.

However, according to former Federation finance minister Nikola Grabovac, the new approach against the Karadzic network is unlikely to work unless the OHR has fresh leads and information. Without that, any search for Karadzic's helpers is impossible in Bosnia, he said.

Some western analysts believe the West's fear of failing in another attempt to capture Karadzic is greater than its hope of success, saying six years of unsuccessful bids to bring the fugitive to justice makes them sceptical about the new tactics.

They also argue that the OHR and SFOR do not always act in unison, as they theoretically should, because their interests differ. While the OHR is highly aware of the need to capture Karadzic, SFOR holds back out of concern for the safety of its soldiers who may come under fire during any attempted arrest.

Aldin Arnautovic is editor-in-chief of the Boram Radio Network in Bosnia

Support our journalists