Hunt for Karadzic and Mladic Stepped Up

With Slobodan Milosevic now locked up in Scheveningen, The Hague has redoubled its efforts to capture former Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Hunt for Karadzic and Mladic Stepped Up

With Slobodan Milosevic now locked up in Scheveningen, The Hague has redoubled its efforts to capture former Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

Republika Srpska, RS, leaders are coming under increasing pressure to extradite the entity's war crimes suspects. This, however, is certain to ignite a storm of anger in the Serbian

half of Bosnia. Which is why Mladen Ivanic, RS prime minister, must tread cautiously before sending former president Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic to join Slobodan Milosevic in a Dutch prison.

On a visit to The Hague earlier this month, Ivanic said his government had approved a new law on cooperation with the tribunal. He said once the proposed legislation was approved by the Banja Luka parliament, arrests and deportations might follow. The RS justice minister, Biljana Maric, said the bill, which incorporates most of the tribunal requirements, might be considered by parliament at its next session.

Ivanic is now under huge pressure from the West to follow the example of Serbia and dispatch its war crimes suspects to the tribunal. But he has to be careful. The Serbian government's extradition of Milosevic roused fury among ordinary Serbs in Bosnia. Weaned on years of government propaganda, Bosnian Serbs still regard their former leaders as heroes and refuse to believe war crimes were committed in their name.

RS is the last refuge in former Yugoslavia for men wanted for atrocities committed during the Bosnian war. But even those politicians who believe that Karadzic and Mladic will end up in The Hague, would far rather the job of arresting them was done by the NATO troops. However, the commanders of alliance forces are reluctant to risk suffering casualties by fighting their way past the heavily-armed guards who protect Karadzic and Mladic.

Talk on the streets of RS shows how deeply entrenched is the view that The Hague concerns itself only with crimes blamed on Serbs and ignores atrocities committed by Croats and Bosniaks.

"I think The Hague was founded only to try Serbian people, " said Jelena, a student at Banja Luka university. " The presidents of other states have not been indicted. This is why our authorities should not cooperate with the tribunal, nor should they arrest Karadzic and Mladic or any other people on the wanted list. The decision of the Serbian authorities to extradite Milosevic was utterly unacceptable."

The Dayton accord, which brought the Bosnian war to an end, obliged signatories to cooperate with the tribunal. RS was one of them. However, immediately after the public learned who was on the list of indicted war criminals, the then ruling Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, which was founded by Karadzic, refused any further cooperation.

The SDS claimed the tribunal was an anti-Serb political institution rather than a legal body. With its dominance of the media, the SDS administration persuaded public opinion that the indictments against Karadzic and Mladic were an attack on the entire Serb people.

When in May, 1996, the OSCE barred persons named on The Hague indictments from taking part in elections, furious demonstrations erupted in the larger RS towns. From Prijedor in the west to Trebinje in the east, demonstrators carried Karadzic's pictures and banners, chanting, "We won't give up Radovan" and "Karadzic is all of us".

After the 1996 elections, the new prime minister, Milorad Dodik, maintained the policy of non-cooperation with The Hague, but modified the rhetoric somewhat. While permitting occasional contacts with the tribunal investigators, he suppressed any mention of the cooperation law during

his three years in office. Nor was a single war crimes suspect arrested. The only concession was to enable some Serbians to go before the tribunal as witnesses.

Responsibility for arrests was shunted off to NATO forces. But politicians complained loudly whenever alliance troops managed to detain a suspect. At first, every arrest was greeted by protest demonstrations but these tapered off.

When last November's elections brought the SDS back to power, it was clear the international community would redouble its efforts to ensure RS worked closely with The Hague. The SDS leaders accepted the principle of collaboration in a document they signed along with Bosnia's high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch,

The tribunal's chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte stepped up the pressure during a visit to Banja Luka at the beginning of March this year. She told Prime Minister Ivanic she wanted Karadzic and Mladic arrested immediately - and would not be palmed off with pledges to do so.

In April, Sinisa Djordjevic, Ivanic's legal adviser, announced the RS planned to adopt a law on relations with The Hague. Parliament is expected to consider it by the end of July.

Hague prosecutors and international officials have accused the RS government of stalling.

"No additional law is necessary for the RS authorities to arrest and extradite to the tribunal anyone named in the public indictments since that issue was settled in the Dayton Agreement," Petritsch said.

Even if parliament accepts the law, the road to implementation will be long. Ivanic says the tribunal should issue indictments against Croat and Bosniak leaders as well, if the RS is expected to hand over its own people.

Ivanic and Mirko Sarovic, the RS president, also claim that no war crime suspects now live inside the entity. But even if Mladic does occasionally stay in Belgrade, it is known for sure that since 1996, Karadzic has been hiding in the mountains of eastern RS. It is known that he is guarded by about 100 well-trained members of the RS special forces who were loyal to him during the war.

Along with Karadzic and Mladic, some 37 other wanted persons are at large. Many live comfortably in eastern parts of the republic. Not much has changed for them, even now that Milosevic is in The Hague and two Bosnian Serb war-time leaders, Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik, are awaiting trial there.

Some believe that the RS authorities are reluctant to hand over Karadzic and Mladic because they fear that some of them would then be implicated in war crimes. But the biggest stumbling block is that many Bosnian Serbs will view The Hague proceedings as a condemnation not only of individuals but of the policies that led to ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, plunder, killings and rape - policies publicly embraced by them at the time.

Gordana Katana is a Banja Luka correspondent for Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje

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