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Karadzic Calls For Rights Of Friends To Be Restored

Radovan Karadzic at the UN court in The Hague in 2008

Radovan Karadzic at the UN court in The Hague in 2008

SARAJEVO (Reuters) -- Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic asked the Balkan country's international peace envoy on May 1 to lift restrictions placed on his friends and supporters for allegedly helping him hide before his arrest.

Karadzic, 63, who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which about 100,000 people were killed, was arrested last July in Belgrade, where he had lived under fake identity.

Karadzic, who has rejected the charges, said in a letter to the envoy, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, that the revelation of his secret life in Belgrade as a New Age healer proved that people in the Bosnian Serb Republic were innocent of charges of helping him.

"I know that many people have suffered great hardships simply because they knew me or were my friends at one time," Karadzic said in the letter written in English and obtained by Reuters. Karadzic went into hiding in 1996.

"Now that I am in the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and the circumstances of my years in hiding are well known, there is no reason to continue to restrict and damage the lives of these innocent people," he said.

Karadzic is representing himself before the ICTY, at hearings held at the United Nations tribunal for war crimes in The Hague.

Many people in the international community believed that a support network helped Karadzic evade justice for nearly 13 years after he was indicted for genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo.

NATO peacekeepers and the EU peace troops that replaced them have searched the homes of Karadzic's relatives and supporters many times over the years in the search for him.

International peace envoys in Bosnia, empowered to impose laws and fire officials seen as obstructing the peace, have sacked dozens of Bosnian Serb officials or taken their passports after suspecting they were helping war crimes fugitives.

"I ask that their political and economic rights be restored since it is now known that not a single one of these people helped me when I was hiding from the authorities," Karadzic wrote.

"I call upon you to initiate a lifting of these restrictions which no longer have any reason or value."

A spokeswoman for Inzko said she could not comment on the letter, which had arrived on a national holiday when the office was closed.

Peacekeepers have continued raids on the homes of suspected supporters even after Karadzic's arrest because Western intelligence believes the same people who had helped Karadzic are now hiding his military chief Ratko Mladic.

Mladic was indicted of genocide along with Karadzic and is believed to be under the protection of his military comrades in Serbia. He is the last remaining high-profile fugitive from the Bosnian war and his arrest is a condition for Serbia's progress toward European integration.