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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Karadzic's Wife Tells Him, 'Give Yourself Up'

Ljiljana Karadzic in 1998 Both the wife of war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the current Republika Srpska president have called on Karadzic to surrender. Many wonder why these pleas came precisely at this time.

Almost 10 years to the day following his indictment for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal, Karadzic's wife Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic appealed to him in a broadcast carried by several regional television stations on 28 July to surrender to the tribunal. She stressed that their family can no longer live with the incessant pressure from unnamed international and local authorities seeking his arrest.

"Our family is under constant pressures from all sides," she noted. "Our lives and existence are threatened. That is why I have to make a choice between my loyalty to you and toward my children and grandchildren. And I have made it," Zelen-Karadzic said in an emotional appeal. She stressed that "it is painful and difficult for me to plead with you. However, I am pleading with you with all my heart and soul to surrender" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May and 18 July 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 29 July 2005).

Her appeal came as a surprise to regional political, military, and journalistic communities. The couple's daughter, Sonja, told the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA that the interview was authentic, adding, however, that her mother will not make any further statements. In Belgrade, Radovan's brother Luka said that his sister-in-law's statement is evidence of the "great pressure" placed on the family by "those who claim to speak in the name of democracy and human rights."

In Sarajevo, EUFOR commander British Major General David Leakey told Bosnian television, however, that Zelen-Karadzic's announcement is no surprise considering the pressure that the Bosnian Serb authorities and the family have been under. "Her appeal does not surprise me at all. Radovan Karadzic has deserted his wife, and that is very upsetting for the family," Leakey added. He called Karadzic a "disgrace for his country" because he reportedly fled with large sums of money that could have been used for pensions and other public purposes. In the coming days, several other officials of the international community, including the U.S. State Department, also hailed Zelen-Karadzic's appeal.

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 28 July she should have added that not only the family is threatened but also the Serbian state and people. Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic said that her message is probably linked to an unspecified attempt by the international community to negotiate Radovan's surrender in agreement with his family.
"The resolution of this question would contribute to the stabilization of the region and would serve to strengthen the credibility of the Republika Srpska." - Tadic

Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, told the private Beta news agency on 29 July that it will greatly demoralize those people hiding and protecting fugitive indictee and former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic if Karadzic turns himself in. Ljajic added that the decision is Karadzic's alone to make and will not be ordered by any third party.

Jovan Simic, who is an adviser to Serbian President Boris Tadic, told the private Beta news agency that the situation is "very serious" and that "we will probably know [Karadzic's] answer very soon." The following day, Tadic issued a statement praising Zelen-Karadzic's appeal. Referring to the political problems facing Belgrade and Banja Luka as long as Karadzic and former General Mladic remain at large, Tadic said that "the resolution of this question would contribute to the stabilization of the region and would serve to strengthen the credibility of the Republika Srpska."

Tadic used the opportunity to call once again on Mladic to surrender, adding that the Croatian authorities should similarly urge fugitive indictee and former General Ante Gotovina to give himself up to the tribunal. "The resolution of all these cases would significantly increase the chances for the entire region to enter the EU," Tadic stressed.

A spokesman for former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said on 29 July that it is "in the interest of the state and nation" for indictees to surrender to the tribunal voluntarily, adding that the indictees themselves must decide what is right, the private Beta news agency reported.

Elsewhere, Gordana Pop Lazic, who is vice president of Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party, said that Zelen-Karadzic's appeal is fully understandable considering her position "as a mother and wife." Pop Lazic added, however, that she would remind Karadzic and former General Mladic that Seselj, who turned himself into the tribunal and is in prison in The Hague, has advised the two men "not to let themselves be taken alive to the Hague tribunal." Pop Lazic argued that the troubles of the Karadzic family will not cease even if Radovan goes to The Hague because there is no one to protect the family from unspecified threats.

Miroslav Popara, who is a top Bosnian Serb security official based in Pale, where the Karadzic family lives, told RFE/RL that no one in the family ever complained to police that they were threatened or in danger.

Republika Srpska officials did not otherwise react quickly to Zelen-Karadzic's plea, but President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 1 August that Karadzic must surrender to the tribunal in the interests of the Republika Srpska. Cavic stressed that "Karadzic must turn himself in. If he doesn't do so, he must be arrested.... There is no third way." Cavic noted that the Bosnian Serb police have been working for months to find and arrest indictees. He acknowledged that many Bosnian Serbs regard arresting indictees unfair because they consider the tribunal biased against Serbs. The president added, however, that failure to arrest indictees poses "a serious political problem that might grow and create additional problems for the Republika Srpska."

Almost as soon as Zelen-Karadzic made her appeal, speculation began in the regional media as to why she spoke out precisely at that time. Some observers took her remarks at face value, suggesting that her decision might have been prompted by NATO peacekeepers' recent brief seizure of her son Sasa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005).

Another view is that her plea is part of a plan by Karadzic, his family, and officials in Banja Luka and Belgrade to orchestrate his surrender under circumstances that will enable him to portray himself as a devoted family man and patriot and gain a sort of propaganda victory in the process. Some commentators suggested that Belgrade and Banja Luka have assured the family of very generous material support if Karadzic surrenders, which is an approach that has apparently been the key to Belgrade's recent successful program of persuading indictees to give themselves up voluntarily.

Many commentators took the view that, regardless of what prompted Zelen-Karadzic's remarks, her husband is likely to respond in one way or another very soon. In any event, as Branko Todorovic of the Republika Srpska Helsinki Committee for Human Rights told RFE/RL, the recent developments have served to dim some of the aura around Karadzic in the eyes of many of his countrymen.