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Balkan Report: April 22, 1998

22 April 1998, Volume 2, Number 16

Where is Karadzic? Guards left their posts outside the home of Radovan Karadzic, apparently for good, during the night of April 3-4. Journalists arriving there the following day found the guard areas abandoned and were able to approach the once heavily protected house, which was now clearly uninhabited. On April 2, NATO forces had made a show of force in Pale, but spokesmen denied that the action was anything more than a routine check for illegal weapons and paramilitaries. Some press reports suggested, however, that NATO was really trying to apply psychological pressure on the hard-line leader. Whatever the case, the Belgrade daily "Nasa Borba" noted that Karadzic's body guard on 2 April was not as numerous as it used to be a few months ago when Pale was still the Republika Srpska's capital.

SFOR officials told "Le Monde" of April 8 that their basic strategy is to isolate Karadzic and wait for his arrest. NATO is pinning great hopes on the new Bosnian Serb government in Banja Luka to be helpful in this respect. Elisabeth Rehn, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia, told a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on April 8 that Karadzic's support has been steadily melting away and that he might soon find himself in The Hague. Some Western media reports suggested that Karadzic's lawyers have already begun negotiations to set the terms of his surrender. For his part, the international community's Carlos Westendorp said: "the only safe country for [Karadzic] at the moment is North Korea."

Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, who is the wife of Radovan, called "completely made up" international media reports that suggest that her husband wants to surrender, the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported on April 11. She added that "he will never turn himself in voluntarily, and he will resist any attempt to arrest him, capture him or illegally detain him." On April 12, Reuters quoted unnamed Bosnian Serb sources as saying that Karadzic is ailing, increasingly isolated, and in hiding near Pale. On April 13, Westendorp said on CNN that Karadzic should heed "the messages we have been sending" and give himself up.

Since then, scarcely a day or two have gone by without some media "revelation" or other as to Karadzic's alleged whereabouts and intentions. His hard-line ally Bozidar Vucurevic assured Serbian media that Karadzic is alive and well in the nationalist stronghold region of eastern Herzegovina. Vucurevic added that 23,000 troops are ready to defend him and will "liquidate" anyone who dares to try to capture Karadzic.

Yet another Belgrade publication quoted "solid sources" among the Bosnian Serbs to the effect that Karadzic is holed up near Visegrad. That formerly Muslim town is the site of the famous Bridge on the Drina and was ruthlessly "cleansed" of its Muslims by Serbian paramilitaries in 1992. Karadzic is allegedly working on his memoirs there and keeping in touch with his supporters via e-mail. Incidentally, General Ratko Mladic has long been rumored to be writing his memoirs at the military headquarters in Han Pijesak.

It is not clear what is behind this latest spate of reports about Karadzic. This is not the first time since the Dayton agreement was signed at the end of 1995 that a host rumors cropped up in the regional and international media to the effect that Karadzic was about to surrender. The "signals" to which Westendorp referred surely mean attempts to exert psychological pressure on Karadzic and other indicted war criminals.

Bosnia Appeals to Turkey. Hajrudin Somun, who is Bosnia's outgoing ambassador to Turkey, said in Ankara on April 10 that Bosnia hopes to build a partnership with Turkey, which ruled Bosnia from 1463 to 1878. Somun noted that the "Turkish people's idea of Bosnia has been war, destruction and refugees... because [Bosnian Muslims] have been coming to Turkey as refugees throughout the past 100 years, not as experts, not as artists... We now need Turkish support not of the kind we had during the war, not humanitarian aid. We need partnership and cooperation. Bosnians and Turks have a very similar mentality, but it takes time to rebuild the relationship from the Ottoman period. A long time has passed and now we have to rediscover each other," the "Turkish Daily News" quoted him as saying.