REGIONAL REPORT: Karadzic Cornered?

Slowly but surely, the NATO net is closing on Hague fugitive Radovan Karadzic.

REGIONAL REPORT: Karadzic Cornered?

Slowly but surely, the NATO net is closing on Hague fugitive Radovan Karadzic.

The two-day long international operation to capture former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic should not be interpreted as a total flop, despite the disappointment expressed in the Western media.

Karadzic's position has never been worse: his freedom of movement is gradually been curtailed by NATO stabilisation forces, S-For; and the Serbian authorities, under pressure from Washington, are reported to be starving him of funds to pay for his security.

The West would ideally like him to surrender - a snatch operation risks NATO casualties and Karadzic committing suicide. Systematic pressure like that applied last week could force Karadzic to hand himself in. There are suggestions that this was the point of last Thursday's operation in the Bosnian village of Celebici.

The 18 seizures of Hague suspects mounted so far in Bosnia-Herzegovina involved secret and sudden assaults by NATO special forces. The Celebici operation was different, as was the previous unsuccessful attempt on July 13, 2001.

On the Wednesday afternoon, international troops could already be clearly seen moving in to reinforce the Foca-Cajnice-Rudo region. Karadzic's security guards could not have failed to spot this. That the operation proceeded the following day without much exchange of fire suggests the former Bosnian Serb leader was not in any direct danger of arrest.

Some 40 US troops swooped into Celebici, a tiny village with some 30 houses, early on Thursday morning in five helicopters. Telephone lines were cut and mobile phones blocked while the troops conducted a painstaking search of every building, including the pigsties.

An S-For spokesman confirmed later in the day that an arms cache of infantry and anti-tank weapons, thought to belong to Karadzic's security, had been found in the village.

The action had been mounted after S-For received intelligence that Karadzic had been spotted near Celebici. The operation continued into Friday when NATO troops searched the hamlets of Borje and Hocevo, some five km to the east.

Mark Laity, acting NATO spokesman, told Radio Free Europe last Friday, "the noose around his [Karadzic's] neck is tightening and arrest efforts will continue as long as he is in Bosnia. It would therefore be better for him to surrender immediately."

Karadzic is said to have between 120 and 150 bodyguards, deployed in three protective rings. Unlike fellow war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, who is guarded by fanatical volunteers, Karadzic's security men are hired hands. Without Serbian funds, they could soon be looking for new employers.

According to his Belgrade friends, many of Karadzic's guards are relatively new. Two years ago he had to disband his original guard units after realising Western intelligence could identify members from wartime photographs and film footage.

The 15 or so men comprising the inner ring of his security are said to come from the mountainous region of Montenegro from where Karadzic himself hails. Most of the others are supposedly locals and less well-known members of his former police force. Although Karadzic enjoys considerable support in eastern Bosnia, it is not certain the latter share his ideological fanaticism.

As a result of the latest raid, Karadzic has been cut off from Celebici and several neighbouring hamlets, which have in the past served as logistical bases. He is now restricted to using only a few even more remote villages on the Bosnian-Montenegrin border.

Nevertheless, the former leader's friends and family say they are not worried.

Jovan Zametica, a wartime advisor to Karadzic, told the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine at the weekend that S-For has no idea where his former boss is hiding and that he is in no immediate danger.

One of Karadzic's friends told IWPR he had received an upbeat letter from the fugitive a few months ago. The friend said Karadzic wrote, "If they [S-For] knew how close I am to them, they would eat their own balls out of embarrassment."

The friend claimed Western intelligence agents routinely tap the phones of Karadzic associates in the Bosnian Serb entity, follow their cars and even put tracking devices on the vehicles. "They think they will reach Karadzic that way, but they are wrong," he said.

Karadzic's brother Luka also insists the war crimes suspect will never give himself up. He told Nezavisne Novine that "Radovan has no intention of surrendering. If he did he would be betraying himself, his friends and his family".

On the day of the Celebici raid, the Belgrade weekly NIN claimed Washington had sent Karadzic a "last offer" via friends and family: in exchange for his surrender and agreement to testify against Milosevic, genocide charges against him would be dropped and he would face the lesser charge of violating the laws or customs of war.

Luka Karadzic told Belgrade Radio B92 that his brother would never agree to testify against Milosevic. "Radovan would not defend himself by accusing someone else, especially another Serb," he was quoted as saying.

It is no secret Washington is confident that Karadzic, once captured, could be persuaded to give evidence against Milosevic, with whom he parted on bad terms in 1994.

With last Thursday's operation, NATO has sent a clear signal that it is determined to secure Karadzic's arrest. As alliance forces continue their slow advance and systematic search of the Celebici region, the chances of Karadzic continuing to evade arrest are shrinking fast.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor-in-chief of Belgrade weekly BlicNews

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