Karadzic Revives Holbrooke Deal Claims

Former Bosnian Serb leader claims the former US envoy told him that he would not be arrested if he withdrew from public life.

Karadzic Revives Holbrooke Deal Claims

Former Bosnian Serb leader claims the former US envoy told him that he would not be arrested if he withdrew from public life.

Friday, 1 August, 2008

If Radovan Karazic’s initial appearance at the Hague tribunal is anything to go by, his trial will be one of the most interesting in this court’s history.

The former Bosnian Serb leader, and until recently one of the most wanted men in Europe, did not enter a plea this week, demanding more time to review the indictment.

However, during his first public appearance under his real name since he went into hiding 13 years ago, Karadzic caused quite a stir by restating a claim that has circulated for years that the former US envoy Richard Holbrooke made an agreement with him in 1996, allegedly promising that he would not be arrested if he withdrew from public life.

“This was offered to me on behalf of the United States in exchange for my withdrawal from …politics. I was determined not to jeopardise the Dayton peace agreement in any way, so I disappeared. In exchange, the US was to fulfill its part of the deal,” said Karadzic at his initial appearance at the Hague tribunal on July 31. He added that he wanted to appear before the Hague tribunal in 1996, soon after he was indicted, but was “in fear of being killed” if he did so.

But before Karadzic could elaborate further, he was interrupted by the presiding judge, Alphonse Orie, from Holland, who said these were not matters for the initial hearing and that he would be given an opportunity to explain this during the regular proceedings.

Judge Orie also indicated that Karadzic would have to provide some evidence to support his claims.

Over the last several years, media in the Balkans have reported rumours about the alleged deal between Karadzic and Holbrooke, and often cited Karadzic’s brother Luka who claimed this was the main reason why Radovan managed to escape arrest for more than a decade.

However, Holbrooke repeatedly dismissed these allegations as completely false.

"I have been hearing these claims for the past ten years. I will no longer pay any attention to them and I will not react," said Holbrooke in a 2007 interview with Sarajevo daily Avaz.

“It is amazing that there are still people in this world who trust the word of a war crimes indictee over that of the United States and the people who brought peace to the Balkans."

A reporter with Avaz who interviewed Holbrooke, Sead Numanovic, believes Karadzic invented the story about the alleged deal in order to justify his decade-long disappearance to the Serb people.

“I really doubt an experienced diplomat such as Holbrooke would ever make a deal with a man indicted for war crimes,” Numanovic told IWPR.

Karadzic, who was transferred to the Hague tribunal on July 30, appeared in court this week clean shaven and looking like his old self, only older and thinner. Dressed in a dark blue suit and tie, he bore little resemblance to the long-haired, bearded alternative health guru arrested earlier this month in Belgrade.

When Judge Orie asked him whether his family members were informed about his transfer to The Hague, Karadzic smiled wryly.

“I don’t believe there is a single person who doesn’t know I’m here,” he said.

He appeared to be quite relaxed throughout the hearing, and although he compared the tribunal to “a natural disaster one has to defend himself from”, he seemed rather cooperative and declared he would conduct his own defence.

Karadic was stone-faced as Judge Orie read counts of his indictment and said he would enter a plea only when he read the amended indictment he heard the prosecutors were preparing.

Prosecutor Alan Tieger confirmed to Judge Orie that he and his colleagues are currently reviewing the operative indictment and are planning to amend it as soon as possible.

Karadzic has been indicted on 11 counts of war crimes in connection with the 1992-95 war, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

Among the crimes Karadzic has been charged with are the killing of thousands of Bosniaks in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 and the shelling of Sarajevo, as well as killing and terrorising the city's civilians during the three-and-a-half year siege

According to Hague prosecutors, Karadzic knew about the crimes that were being committed, but failed to take action to prevent them.

This week, Karadzic used his initial appearance to point out “numerous irregularities” about his transfer to The Hague. He repeated the claim his lawyer made several days ago that he was not arrested on July 21, as the Serbian government officially announced.

“I was detained on July 18 by three civilians whom I didn’t know and taken to a place I didn’t know, where I was held for three days before being handed over to the investigative judge,” he said.

Karadzic added that during those three days he was not allowed to make a phone call or send a text message to his friends who may have been worried about his disappearance.

Although there has been much speculation in relation to the actual date of Karadzic’s arrest and the identity of those who caught him – from bounty hunters to a foreign intelligence service – Numanovic believes the answer is probably quite simple. He says the way Karadzic was detained has similarities to the arrest of indicted Bosnian Serb army general Zdravko Tolimir several months ago.

Tolimir was officially detained by Bosnian Serb authorities as he was trying to cross the border with Serbia, but he claimed during his initial appearance in The Hague that he had actually been arrested in Belgrade and then transferred to Bosnia.

“It is quite possible that after they had captured Karadzic, Serbian security forces wanted to hand him over to the Bosnian Serb authorities, but they probably refused to take him fearing that would cost the Republika Srpska government too much because of the popularity Karadzic still enjoys there,” said Numanovic.

Meanwhile, Karadzic’s Belgrade lawyers have called on the Serbian authorities to help them get documents necessary for his defence. They have been told some assistance will be provided.

The lawyers also asked the Serbian police to give them a laptop and 50 CDs, which they claim were taken from Karadzic on the day he was arrested and which, they say, contain documents central to his defence case.

Head of the Serbian government’s office for cooperation with the Hague tribunal Dusan Ignjatovic could not confirm whether the Belgrade authorities were indeed in possession of these documents, but said they would provide all the material they have that could be of use to the tribunal.

“As far as we are concerned, we don’t see any problem with giving Karadzic’s lawyers those documents. But we first have to establish that he had them on him on the day he was arrested,” said ignajtovic. “We have to check whether those allegations are true.”

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s international justice/ICTY programme manager. RFE reporter in Belgrade Milos Teodorovic contributed to this report.


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