Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

The Elusive Doctor Karadzic

Pressure mounts for former Bosnian Serb leader’s arrest but there’s still no sign of him.
By Chris Stephen

Radovan Karadzic, the man the Hague tribunal most want to arrest, was back in the news again this week.


Hague tribunal president Judge Theodor Meron told the United Nations that his court cannot close down until the former Bosnian Serb president is brought in.


And US war crimes ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper put a five million US dollar bounty on his capture.


Prosper, visiting the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka on September 6, said he had “certain information on Radovan Karadzic’s whereabouts that indicate he is in this area”.


Karadzic has been on the run for more than six years from indictments accusing him of playing a lead role in much of the Bosnian war and the atrocities that accompanied it.


His continuing freedom is a huge embarrassment for the international community: In 1996 he lived openly in his Pale villa, just 20 minutes by car from NATO headquarters in Sarajevo. Journalists were free to drop by for a chat – but the powerful international force refused to go after him. Karadzic even took the time to do some home improvements, confident no one would bother him.


When he drove past UN police manning a checkpoint that year, they were unable to persuade NATO troops to chase after him.


Bosnian Federation police said they would be happy to do the job, but NATO turned them down. This, despite the fact that Karadzic is charged among other things with the massacre of 7,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst crime in Europe since 1945.


When British special forces made the first war crimes arrests in 1997, Karadzic disappeared, and he has been missing ever since.


So with the UN, NATO and the United States all wanting to bring him in, how is it that the former psychiatrist remains at large?


The short answer appears to be a lack of political will.


To start with, where is he? Right now, it is easier to say where he is least likely to be. Not in Serbia – he has little support here and the security forces would probably arrest him. He would also face arrest in most of Montenegro, as he is no friend of president Milo Djukanovic.


And he has few friends even in much of Serb-held Bosnia: In the west of Republika Srpska, RS, there are strong memories of his corruption, which was so bad that in 1994 units of the Bosnian Serb army went on strike in Banja Luka.


So Karadzic can only feel safe in eastern and south-eastern parts of the RS. He also has support in the mountainous northern parts of Montenegro, where he was born and has family ties.


Together, these two areas make a good hiding-place. Karadzic is reported to have spent the past six years scooting around the mountains and forests of this zone, moving backwards and forwards over the border. As well as the rugged wooded terrain, local support is a big plus.


But there are ways of catching him. First, of course, there is surveillance. NATO may already be operating fixed posts with cameras and electronic listening devices. Drone aircraft can stay in the sky for 24 hours watching the same spot, so far away that they are invisible yet armed with TV cameras able to see a car number plate. But none of this is any good unless NATO knows where to look.


The same is true of telephone intercepts. These work fine – NATO is probably able to tap into the Bosnian and Montenegro phone systems, and can certainly monitor radio frequencies and email. But what if Karadzic does not use the phone?


A more promising way in is through human intelligence. Karadzic is unable to be living alone. He needs his contacts to keep moving between safe locations. He needs people to finance him. And although he is in hiding, they will be much easier to find.


Bosnia’s High Representative Paddy Ashdown has already urged more efforts to squeeze those thought to be paying Karadzic’s bills. And Prosper will be hoping that the prospect of five million dollars will persuade just one link in Karadzic’s human chain to give him up.


Finally, there are the commandos. NATO units have already tried to catch Karadzic, and failed.


The problem here is similar to the problem faced in trying to kill Saddam Hussein during the invasion of Iraq. Intelligence on his movements comes from human sources, and it takes time for these people to discover his location and then send the information on. Thus, NATO often knows where Karadzic has been, and even where he might be heading, but it has trouble finding out where he is at any one time.


An alternative to a quick raid is to seal off a big area, then use many more troops as a dragnet. The problem here is that it is easy for one man to hide up a tree or in a cave. And also, such an operation could provoke resistance from the local population, many of whom support Karadzic.


Finally, there is the risk that a raid could end in a firefight. The former Bosnian Serb leader is likely to be protected by bodyguards. Killing them will be messy, and could involve NATO casualties and – the biggest nightmare for special forces commanders – end in the death of the man they want to arrest.


Chris Stephen is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.