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Deceptive Karadzic Shocked The West With Total War

Karadzic (right) with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1994
Karadzic (right) with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1994
BELGRADE -- In the early spring of 1992, the floppy gray hair and lopsided smile had many people fooled.

Radovan Karadzic, the man now in custody on charges of orchestrating Europe's worst massacre since World War II, looked like an aging lounge singer.

If a trifle eccentric, he was charming, in a hard-line sort of way. His talk seemed wild but he didn't look capable of directing mass slaughter.

By summer, as leader of Bosnia's breakaway Republika Srpska, Karadzic had cast aside politics and begun orchestrating a savage war against the Bosnian Muslims and Croats who declared Bosnia-Herzegovina independent of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav federation.

His forces used every heavy weapon they could get their hands on, and there were plenty, with endless ammunition, courtesy of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav National Army under the control of the late Serbian strongman, Slobodan Milosevic.

The streets of Sarajevo were empty in broad daylight. The fledgling army of Bosnian Muslims was completely outgunned.

The Serbs held the craggy heights that ring the mountain capital and fired into the city at will, with mortars, artillery and antiaircraft cannon, hot barrels tilted downward over the forested slopes under deceptively tranquil blue skies.

Serbian police arrest supporters of Radovan Karadzic in Belgrade after news of his arrest.

Residents scurried like rats over exposed street crossings to avoid snipers' bullets. Many failed. The cemeteries filled to overflowing, with an estimated 11,000 dead.

The first battalion of a United Nations Protection Force of blue-helmeted peacekeepers charged up from the Adriatic coast in white armored vehicles to take control of shattered Sarajevo airport, ankle deep in brass shell casings, and thousands more troops followed to secure the first of countless "cease-fires."

But within a year of the start of the 1992-95 war, UNPROFOR had become a symbol of hapless intervention, hamstrung by a Western policy of "even-handedness" which was exploited fully by Karadzic's dominant force.

Strangled City

Within weeks, Sarajevo had been encircled and had begun to run out of supplies. The darkened city was besieged for 43 months. It was heated by firewood in homemade tin stoves.

One egg cost $10. It took connections and lots of cash to get fuel, never mind medicines or makeup, which had vanished.

Bosnian Serb forces advanced over the country, "cleansing" ethnic rivals from the land they claimed. Villages burned, and refugees fled, sometimes pursued by a murderous rain of mortar shells through the forests and over remote mountain tracks.

Time and again, Karadzic would appear on television, justifying the actions of his troops, denying charges of brutality, even accusing the Muslims of blowing up their people in a ruthless ploy to attract international sympathy.

He was invited to peace talks abroad. He was an interlocutor of high-profile peace envoys from the West.

In Sarajevo, they rolled crude cigarettes in the onion-skin paper ripped from books of strangely morbid poetry penned by the onetime psychiatrist and wondered who would stop him, and when.

It was more than two years before his star began to wane, as his mentor Milosevic took account of growing Western disgust for the brutality of the Bosnian Serb army and Serbian paramilitary units and was pressured to cut off support.

Yet even when exasperated NATO allies used their airpower to try to tame the Serbian onslaught, defiant Serbs captured UNPROFOR troops and handcuffed them to military targets as human shields.

"Pinprick bombing" was denounced in the Western media as an ineffectual swat at forces who at one point controlled 70 percent of Bosnia, and in 1995, the U.S.-led allies bombed in earnest to show they meant business. Yet worse was to come.

Always With You

In July 1995, Serbian forces closed in on a UN "safe haven" where thousands of Muslims were crammed in under the protection of a lightly armed Dutch force with no orders to fight. Srebrenica fell without a shot.

Karadzic's army commander, General Ratko Mladic, took control and separated women and children from some 8,000 men "of fighting age" who were never seen again.

Bosnian Muslims celebrate the arrest in Sarajevo.

They were systematically slaughtered, and bulldozed into mass graves, in what the United Nations war crimes court for ex-Yugoslavia charged was a deliberate act of genocide, the worst Europe had seen since the Nazis.

NATO intervention ended the war and a peace was imposed at talks in Dayton, Ohio, in late 1995.

Karadzic, under UN war crimes indictments, did not flee. But he had lost power within his own Bosnian Serb hard-line clique and, eventually, went underground in 1997.

There were reported "sightings" of Karadzic over the years. He was "seen" lunching with his wife in a Bosnian tavern, undisguised, in 2005, and allegedly attended his mother's funeral in Montenegro dressed as a priest.

Karadzic's lawyer says he was arrested on a local bus outside Belgrade.

In Bosnia and Serbia, to this day, loyalists see Karadzic and Mladic as heroes hounded by Western powers blind to the mortal dangers Serbdom faced at the hands of Bosnia's Muslims.

His face is printed on calendars and T-shirts. His books sell in churches. "Always with you," is a favorite slogan.

-- Reuters