Karadzic Hunt May be Stepped Up

Race to capture leading fugitive accelerates as time runs out for NATO’s Bosnia mandate and for the Hague tribunal.

Karadzic Hunt May be Stepped Up

Race to capture leading fugitive accelerates as time runs out for NATO’s Bosnia mandate and for the Hague tribunal.

Pressured by time, money and the prospect of a NATO handover in Bosnia, the international community is racing to get the Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic to the Hague tribunal before the end of this year.


After tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte met NATO and European Union officials in Brussels on February 11, to urge them to step up the drive to apprehend the fugitive, she piled pressure on Serbia’s outgoing government by declaring he was now hiding in Belgrade.


Such demands for his arrest are not new, but they have occurred when the international community looks determined to make Karadzic’s capture a priority this year.


Time is running out for the tribunal to complete its work, while NATO’s credibility faces a battering if it ends its eight-year mission in Bosnia with the suspect at large.


The EU, which is to take over the Bosnia mission from NATO, is far from eager to accept responsibility for such a hot potato as Karadzic’s arrest on its own.


Under its “completion strategy”, the tribunal prosecution must complete its investigations and issue all remaining indictments by the end of this year. Trials will end by 2008 and the court is to close its doors in 2010.


But since both Del Ponte and several western heads of state have said the tribunal will not wind up before it tries Karadzic, it has become imperative for the suspect to be arrested.


Finances and time factors are playing a major role in international calculations. Funds for the tribunal appear to be drying up. At the same time, a Karadzic trial would be a complex affair, demanding the testimony of numerous witnesses. On the basis of the average duration of trials held so far, Hague officials estimate around four years would elapse between his arrest and a ruling, which in effect means he must be arrested this year.


Although Del Ponte avoided reporters after the February 11 meeting, diplomatic sources say she warned NATO-state ambassadors that the deadline for closing the tribunal would need rescheduling if Karadzic remained free, along with two other top suspects, Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic and Croatian general Ante Gotovina.


For NATO officials preparing to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, Karadzic has become a burning problem. At an alliance summit in Istanbul in June, when the organisation is due to celebrate the admission of new members, NATO will probably make a decision to terminate its mission in the republic, paving the way for the EU to take over.


On leaving his post as NATO secretary-general last December, George Robertson described Karadzic’s arrest as a wish that never came true during his mandate. His successor, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, is known also to be equally determined to see the former Bosnian Serb leader’s detention.


“The tribunal is within a stone’s throw of my house in The Hague where it would be easy for me to keep an eye on Mr Karadzic and Mr Mladic,” he said on February 12 in a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.


A flurry of NATO operations over the past two months has highlighted alliance’s haste. On top of a search of potential hideouts and the arrest of two Karadzic bodyguards in mid-January, the alliance has increased pressure on the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, the ruling party in Republika Srpska, to cooperate with the hunt. Analysts believe this combination of actions spurred Karadzic to flee, possibly to Serbia.


The EU is in an equal hurry to see Karadzic in court. Stephan Lehne, senior Balkans advisor to the EU High representative for foreign policy, Javier Solana, told a debate on the Balkans in Brussels earlier this month that the EU was “praying” that NATO arrest Karadzic before it takes over the Bosnia mission.


If NATO, which possesses the world’s best reconnaissance equipment and most advanced command chain system, cannot arrest Karadzic after eight years, military experts doubt the EU succeeding, as Brussels is only starting to develop its military and defence capacities.


NATO sources say the US has promised to keep some officers in Bosnia after the EU takes over in units tasked with arresting outstanding tribunal indictees and that a US general will head the war crimes office in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


So far, the EU has mainly attempted to exert pressure on former Yugoslav states to cooperate with the tribunal by making cooperation a condition for association with the union.


Croatia is seen as a positive example of Europe’s carrot and stick approach. Zagreb handed all its documents over to the tribunal and allowed investigators to question all suspects and potential witnesses to speed up its path to EU membership candidate status.


The only outstanding dispute is over Gotovina, charged with committing crimes against Croatian Serbs during Operation Storm (Oluja) in the summer of 1995 but who remains at large. The EU is attempting to resolve this last major problem by delaying ratification of Croatia’s association agreement until Gotovina has been handed over.


But the EU has had less success with Serbia, which has only yielded to direct US pressure and threats to withhold financial aid. In a recent example of this, Washington froze the bank accounts of ten Bosnian Serb officials accused of assisting Karadzic.


Though the US has urged the EU to consider taking similar measures, European diplomats have cautioned against such expectations on account of their complexity.


“It is easier to pass a decision on such measures in Washington,” one EU diplomat said, “whereas we have a very complicated procedure in which we have to obtain the approval of all the big member states.”


Del Ponte’s claim that Karadzic was now in Serbia appeared to shift some responsibility for his capture, or surrender, from NATO to the EU and Serbia-Montenegro.


After Del Ponte’s meeting with Scheffer on February 11, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the alliance was not happy that Karadzic had fled, perhaps to Serbia, adding that responsibility for the arrest of fugitives lay firstly with the local authorities.


Appathurai stressed that the arrests of all remaining suspects were a pre-condition for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro’s admission into NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme.


However, Serbia’s political vacuum means Belgrade may remain deaf to such appeals and warnings. After repeatedly failing to elect a president, the republic has also been left unable to elect a government for two months now. In those circumstances, the international community is unlikely to be able to rely on local assistance.


Augustin Palokaj is a Brussels-based senior correspondent for the Kosovo daily Koha Ditore and Croatian daily Jutarnji list.


Support our journalists