Serbia: Bosnian Serb Leaders Face Smear Campaign

Belgrade authorities try to undermine reputation of Karadzic and Mladic by linking them with the mafia.

Serbia: Bosnian Serb Leaders Face Smear Campaign

Belgrade authorities try to undermine reputation of Karadzic and Mladic by linking them with the mafia.

Serbia's government has launched an unprecedented campaign to discredit Bosnian Serb fugitives Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic and prepare the public for their arrest.


The government has come under considerable pressure recently to arrest and extradite Mladic, believed to be hiding in Belgrade. Belgrade is also being asked to help root out Karadzic, thought to be hiding in eastern Bosnia.


Though Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's government has promised to transfer the two men to The Hague, the fact that most Serbs look on them as national heroes is a serious obstacle.


One thread of the government's strategy is to link their names to the Belgrade mafia. The arrest of Alija Delimustafic, who is wanted by the Sarajevo authorities, on January 17 was an attempt to do just that.


A wheeler-dealer with a history of financial connections with Karadzic allies, Delimustafic was detained with two of his Serbian business partners, Mladjo Novakovic and Borislav Radosavljevic.


As an interior minister in the Sarajevo government in the early Nineties, Delimustafic is said to have lined his pockets in deals to equip the Bosnian police. His excellent connections with the Serbs meant that even on the eve of the war in Bosnia, he was able to buy ammunition and flack jackets in Serbia.


With the escalation of the conflict, he left the country and continued his business activities in Vienna and several other Western European towns.


After the war, he returned to Sarajevo and founded the powerful BH Bank, which held the accounts of most of the international organisations based in the country.


In the summer of 2000, the BH bank became insolvent and he was imprisoned in Sarajevo for financial irregularities.


In February last year, he was released on bail. He fled Bosnia and sought protection from the Bosnian Serbs in Banja Luka, at the time when Karadzic's old party, the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, had returned to power.


His connections with the SDS enabled Delimustafic to obtain a new identity in Republika Srpska, RS. Under the assumed name of Gojko Mitrovic, he moved to Belgrade last November.


There, he was welcomed by his best man and pre-war friend and business partner, Momcilo Mandic, Delimustafic's former deputy in charge of the Bosnian police at the start of the war.


Mandic transferred to the RS police, where he became a trusted confidante of Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik, another Bosnian Serb leader.


After the first year of war, Mandic left RS and came to Belgrade, where under Milosevic's protection, he built up a business empire worth an estimated hundred million euros.


Mandic acquired most of his wealth by smuggling petrol from RS to Serbia in the latter part of the Nineties while Belgrade was under international sanctions. He admitted to the Belgrade daily Blic on February 6 that he owned four petrol stations in Serbia and RS.


Mandic never concealed his connections with the Bosnian Serb nationalist leaders. Last January, in an interview with Ekstra magazin in Bijeljina, RS, he acknowledged gaining his wealth from his SDS connections.


He also admitted that he had financed Krajisnik's defence, after he was detained in The Hague from April 2000.


Media speculation holds that that he financed Karadzic's security arrangements, though this has never been proven. "I am pro-Karadzic and I am not hiding this," Mandic told Blic News on January 6.


Recent Serbian government statements make it clear that they hope to open the public's eyes to the wheeler-dealing of Bosnian Serb nationalists to shatter Karadzic's reputation.


Zarko Korac, deputy president of the Serbian government, told the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine on February 6 that it was "difficult to regard as patriots and friends of the people those who enriched themselves during the conflict ".


In addition to trying to smear Karadzic and Mladic, Djindjic is seeking to use the arrest of Delimustafic and Mandic to undermine Yugoslav president Vojisalv Kostunica.


Djindjic's Democratic Party claims Kostunica's adviser Aleksandar Tijanic and a Serbian businessman from Cyprus, Zoran Drakulic, the biggest single donor to the Yugoslav president's party, are closely associated with Delimustafic.


It remains to be seen whether the public will be influenced by the campaign to discredit the two Hague fugitives. Most interpret the close ties between Kostunica's party and the Bosnian Serbs SDS as proof of the Yugoslav president's patriotism - which will clearly disappoint the Serbian premier.


If the campaign backfires, Djindjic's reputation among nationalists as a traitor, which he earned from his key role in the extradition of Milosevic to The Hague, will only be strengthened.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor-in-chief of the Belgrade weekly Blic News.


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