Accessibility links

If Karadzic Was Betrayed By His Own Men, Is Mladic Next?

  • Jeremy Bransten

It sounds like the far-fetched plot of a spy thriller.

In the end, the fugitive Radovan Karadzic wasn't hiding out in any mountain cave in Montenegro or in a remote monastery accessible only by mule track.

Instead, calling himself Dr. Dragan "David" Dabic and sporting a wizard's beard, the former Bosnian Serb leader lectured on alternative medicine and frequented the Madhouse Bar in downtown Belgrade.

The "Butcher of Bosnia" liked to sit at the table next to the bar, sipping red wine under his own portrait and that of his comrade-in-arms, Mladic.

It is difficult to imagine that at least a few people weren't in on his secret, including members of Serbia's intelligence service.

Dejan Anastasijevic, senior investigative reporter for the Belgrade weekly "Vreme," says Karadzic couldn't have hidden in plain sight without a network.

"Karadzic definitely had professional help in building a false identity and acquiring papers: identity cards and a passport and also expertise in how to behave and how not to behave in order to avoid capture," Anastasijevic says. "This had to be done by professionals. So elements [of the intelligence service] were included."

So the question is: If Karadzic was betrayed by his own men, is Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, next?

Into Thin Air

Until eight years ago, sightings of Mladic -- not even disguised -- were regularly reported around Belgrade. He was last reported attending a soccer match in the city, in the year 2000.

After that, the beefy former commander of Bosnian Serb forces was no longer spotted.

But more recently, Serbia's leading human rights activist, Natasa Kandic, alleged that Serbia's intelligence services had "absolutely precise information" on Mladic's whereabouts and could have nabbed him at any time. It was just a question of political will.

Kandic was the one who uncovered video footage from 1995 of Bosnian Serb forces killing six Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica execution-style and turned it over to the tribunal at The Hague.

The video is a key piece of evidence documenting the worst massacre to take place on European soil since World War II. Karadzic and Mladic are charged with being its principle architects.

Anastasijevic says it is quite possible that Mladic, like Karadzic, has been "hiding in plain sight" in the Serbian capital.

The network seemed to prefer this method.

"Yes, I wouldn't be surprised," Anastasijevic says. "That seems to be the pattern. Stojan Zupljanin -- another war crimes fugitive, who was arrested last month -- had a very similar [false] identity. Only he was pretending to be a construction manager."

'Drastic Reforms'

Now that political orders have changed in Belgrade, Anastasijevic thinks Mladic has reason to be nervous.

"I think that the chances of Mladic being arrested are very high now," Anastasijevic says. "Both he and [former Serbian Croat leader] Goran Hadzic -- the other remaining fugitive. I think the government is very serious when it says that it wants to wrap this job up."

There was always speculation that Mladic, as a former military leader, was better protected than Karadzic -- his political ally. While that may have been true in the past, Anastasijevic notes that recent reforms in the Serbian military -- and especially the shakeup in its leadership -- mean that's no longer true.

"They undertook drastic reforms, both structural and on a personnel level," Anastasijevic says. "And so if Mladic walked into the General Staff today, I think for one that he would not find any friends there. And I think he would be genuinely angry about the Western style of today's Serbian Army."

The authorities in Belgrade have always denied that Karadzic, Mladic, or any other accused war criminals has ever been shielded by elements of the security services.

"I am sure that the issue of Ratko Mladic will be resolved in the coming weeks, or months; he should be arrested," Dusan Ignjatovic, director of the government's office for cooperation with the international tribunal in The Hague, says in the wake of the Karadzic arrest. "All the stories about negotiations with Mladic are false, and the government is not behind the hiding of fugitives. And if it is not clear to [Mladic and Hadzic] after the latest arrest , they should know that they are on their way to The Hague."

But many observers see evidence in Karadzic's sudden unmasking and in statements like Ignjatovic's that the tide has turned in Belgrade. There appears to be new will in Serbia to close this dark chapter in history.

Although Anastasijevic isn't placing any bets on when Mladic will be landing gin The Hague, he believes the odds are better than good that his days as a fugitive are numbered.

"It's definitely not a done deal until he is actually arrested. And it's a [thankless] task at this moment to try to be a prophet," Anastasijevic says. "But what I said previously, I want to emphasize again [that] I do believe that this government is serious about wrapping up this job. They have cast a net and they will pluck these two people out because it's simply unreasonable to have Serbia's road to Europe being blocked by three, and now only two individuals."

Perhaps in time, the Madhouse Bar will also retire the photos of its fallen heroes.
Reaction To Arrest
Little Backlash Suggests Nationalism On Wane

Only a few hundred hard-line Serbian nationalists turned out in Belgrade this week to protest the arrest of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Does this negligible reaction from the once-powerful nationalists indicate that their cause is finally waning? Branka Trivic, a correspondent at RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau, believes it does. More