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Bosnia: Karadzic Unlikely To Surrender To The Hague

The Hague, 23 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The chief prosecutor of the UN war crimes tribunal, Louise Arbour, this week visited Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, where an estimated 7,000 Muslim men were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces in July, 1995.

As she watched forensic experts exhume the bodies of some of those men, she looked into a television camera and said that it is "inevitable" that those accused of responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre -- former Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic -- will appear before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Just a few days earlier, Bosnia's top international mediator, Carlos Westendorp, had predicted that Karadzic would be arrested by the end of this month.

If you think you've heard all this before, you're right. Since at least early 1996, international officials have been predicting that the capture of Karadzic was imminent.

In May, 1996, Christian Chartier, spokesman for The Hague tribunal, told RFE/RL that chances were improving that Karadzic and Mladic would be arrested. As he put it then, "international pressure is stepping up."

In September, 1997, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told reporters that Karadzic would be in The Hague "soon."

In recent weeks, the rumors that Karadzic is negotiating to turn himself into the war crimes tribunal have reached a crescendo. There is such a mountain of speculation that it's in danger of being taken for fact.

Karadzic is said to have left his formerly well-guarded stronghold in Pale, a ski resort above Sarajevo that was the Bosnian Serb headquarters throughout the war.

One version reported by a Belgrade daily newspaper (NT Plus) is that Karadzic is still in the Serb half of Bosnia (Republika Srpska), but moves among several safe houses.

The newspaper said he is writing his memoirs, which, according to other reports, will serve as the basis of his defense if he appears before The Hague tribunal to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for the Srebrenica massacre, the siege of Sarajevo and the "ethnic cleansing" of huge swathes of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Piling on details to lend authenticity to its report, the Belgrade newspaper said that Karadzic has a computer in each of his safe houses, but does not use e-mail or surf the Internet because of security concerns.

But perhaps he's not in Bosnia at all. Other reports claim he is in Montenegro (the smaller partner of Serbia in rump Yugoslavia) or Russia. He was also reported to have been seen either at the Prague airport or at Belgrade airport preparing to board a Prague-bound flight. The Czech intelligence service looked into this rumor but concluded there were no facts behind it.

The French daily Le Monde, quoting French security sources, reported two weeks ago that Karadzic had fled to Belarus to negotiate his surrender to the war crimes tribunal through two American lawyers.

One report claimed that Karadzic's main concern was that he be allowed to serve his sentence in a country where his religious traditions would be respected.

Karadzic, like all Bosnian Serbs, is Serb Orthodox. Although there are a number of Christian Orthodox countries in Europe, many observers believe Karadzic -- if this version is correct -- prefers Russia or Greece, two close supporters of Serbia and the Bosnian Serbs. However, the reliability of this report is in question because its very premise is that Karadzic believes he would be found guilty.

Despite the mountain of media reports, there is N-O solid evidence that Karadzic is in fact preparing to surrender for what would certainly be a sensational trial.

Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana, said a little more than a week ago that Karadzic will "never" give himself up. This assessment was echoed a few days ago by his closest political ally, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-man presidency, speaking to CNN television.

In addition, U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin said recently that the U.S. has N-O information to suggest that Karadzic is negotiating his surrender.

Of course, Karadzic does not have to surrender to end up at The Hague. NATO-led peace troops in Bosnia could capture him, as they have captured several other war crimes suspects. But a recent report in the Washington Post (April 23) says that NATO plans to capture Karadzic have been shelved after it was discovered that a French military officer had held secret meetings with the Bosnian Serb leader and might have provided him with details of the arrest plans. Many observers believe that Karadzic's support in Republika Srpska wanes. Milorad Dodik, the moderate prime minister of the Bosnian Serbs, said last week that the "best measure" for Karadzic is to, in Dodik's words, "realize the situation and surrender to The Hague."

Chief prosecutor Arbour said yesterday (April 22) that she would ask for life imprisonment for Karadzic if he were to appear in The Hague. Life imprisonment is the harshest penalty the tribunal can impose.

Less attention is paid to Mladic, the former military commander whose forces overran the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica despite that fact that it had been declared a UN-protected zone. Mladic is reliably reported to be moving freely around Serbia, far beyond the reach of the NATO-led forces in Bosnia who could conceivably snatch Karadzic.

Richard Goldstone, the former chief war crimes prosecutor, said last week that the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic must be the top priority of efforts to ensure that justice is served in the former Yugoslavia.

As Goldstone put it: "The test of the success of the Yugoslav tribunal is going to be whether Karadzic and Mladic, Karadzic in particular, stands trial."