Former Bosnian-Serb military leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide in the bloody Balkan wars of the mid-1990s and one of the world's most-wanted fugitives, was captured after more than a dozen years on the run, Serbian officials announced Monday evening.
The stunning arrest of the 63-year-old Mr. Karadzic was a coup for the new pro-Western Serbian government, whose efforts to break out of international isolation have been crippled in part because of a failure to bring Mr. Karadzic and other war-crimes suspects to justice.
“Radovan Karadzic was located and arrested tonight” by Serbian security agents, the office of Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a statement Monday night, giving few details of the operation.
The capture was immediately hailed by the European Union, the White House and Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor for The Hague-based international tribunal that is trying crimes arising from the Balkan wars. The panel has brought two indictments against Mr. Karadzic relating to the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia at the hands of ethnic-Serb forces during the 1992-95 clashes that tore apart the former state of Yugoslavia.
MOST-WANTED: After more than a dozen years on the run, Radovan Karadzic was arrested by Serbian agents. (Associated Press)
“This is excellent news,” said EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana on Monday. “… It shows the commitment of the new Serbian government to cooperate with international organizations.”
The White House in a statement congratulated the Serbian security forces for their “professionalism and courage” in tracking down Mr. Karadzic.
“There is no better tribute to the victims of the war's atrocities than bringing their perpetrators to justice,” the statement said.
Mr. Brammertz, who was scheduled to visit Belgrade on Wednesday, called the capture of Mr. Karadzic a “milestone.”
“This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade,” he added. “It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that, sooner or later, all fugitives will be brought to justice.”
The indictments charge Mr. Karadzic and other Bosnian-Serb leaders with genocide, murder, deportation and other acts targeting non-Serbian populations in Bosnia during the war.
U.N. investigators charge his forces with killing at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys during the siege of Srebrenica in July 1995, and using international peacekeepers as human shields during the shelling of Sarajevo.
Mr. Karadzic's forces were attempting to carve out a Serbian enclave in Bosnia, battling local Croats and Muslims for political dominance.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat who helped forge the accord that ended the fighting in 1995, said Mr. Karadzic was “worse than [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic” in spurring ethnic hatred during the time, and said his capture would have a major impact on the region.
War-crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic (left) and Ratko Mladic are seen at a Bosnian-Serb assembly session in Sanski in April 1995. Mr. Karadzic was arrested in Serbia this week. (Associated Press)
“He was a kind of Robin Hood to the Bosnian Serbs,” Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview on CNN. “His removal from the scene will help create stability and has an ongoing significance for the region.”
Serbia has been under heavy pressure from the EU and human rights activists over its failure to catch Mr. Karadzic and fellow war-crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, his main military commander. Critics say the two were being sheltered in part by elements within the Serbian security and intelligence agencies. Gen. Mladic remains at large.
Mr. Karadzic's reported hide-outs included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself by shaving off his trademark silver shock of hair and donning a priest's brown cassock.
Unofficial accounts from Belgrade say Mr. Karadzic was arrested in the Serbian capital and offered no resistance when apprehended. He was undergoing a formal identification process and was being turned over to international investigators for questioning.
Government sources said Mr. Karadzic had been under surveillance for several weeks, after a tip-off from an unnamed foreign intelligence service.
Mr. Holbrooke said it was not clear whether Belgrade would attempt to try Mr. Karadzic in its national courts or send him along to The Hague to face genocide and other charges.
Serbian officials sent Mr. Milosevic to The Hague court, but he died before his lengthy war-crimes trial could be decided.
News agencies reported that reports of Mr. Karadzic's arrest set off street celebrations in Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns that bore the brunt of the ethnic wars. Cars streamed through the streets blaring their horns, while Bosnian state radio was playing excerpts of Mr. Karadzic's old bombastic speeches dating from the 1992-95 war.
“This is the best thing that could ever happen. You see people celebrating everywhere. … I called and woke up my whole family,” Sarajevo resident Fadil Bico told Reuters news agency.
cThis article is based in part on wire service reports.
Bosnian Muslims Celebrate Karadzic's Arrest
The arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of orchestrating Europe's worst massacre since World War II, has unleashed an outburst of joy in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. In Belgrade, police have amassed in front of the court building where Karadzic is being held.
He was on the run for a decade, but now Radovan Karadzic, 63, the former president of the Bosnian Serbs who is accused of war crimes including the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebenica, has been caught.
The arrest took place on Monday evening and was “an operation of the Serbian security services,” said the office of Serbian President Boris Tadic.
However, Sveta Vujacic, Karadzic's lawyer, had a different version of events. He said Karadzic had been arrested on a public bus around 9:30 a.m. on Friday and held until he was brought to the court Monday.
“He just said that these people showed him a police badge and then he was taken to some place and kept in the room. And that is absolutely against the law what they did,” Vujacic told AP Television News. “The judge also said that he will look into this matter, who and why kept him for three days.”
Karadzic was brought before the investigative judge of Serbia's war crimes court, a sign that he will shortly be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.
The tribunal described him as the suspected mastermind of “scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.”
Prosecutors suspected he was able to elude the search for him for so long because he had help from Bosnian Serb nationalists and used elaborate disguises.
Serbia has been under intense international pressure for years to hand over war crimes suspects to the UN tribunal. Karadzic faces charges of genocide and other crimes.
His whereabouts had been a mystery to UN prosecutors, unlike those of his wartime military commander, General Ratko Mladic, who had last been spotted living in Belgrade in 2005 and remains at large. Mladic is also wanted for war crimes including the Srebenica massacre.
After Karadzic's arrest, dozens of his supporters gathered in front of the Belgrade court building where Karadzic was brought before the investigating judge. Heavily armed units of the Serbian police amassed in front of the building.
The US Embassy, which had already become a target for Serbian ultra-nationalists in February during protests against Kosovo's declaration of independence, was also put under police protection.
“Karadzic, You Hero”
Several supporters of Karadzic were arrested in front of the building after they attacked reporters. Many Serbs still celebrate Karadzic as a patriot. “Karadzic, you hero,” his supporters called, and “Tadic, you traitor.”
Meanwhile, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where an estimated 10,000 people died during a four-year siege by Serb nationalists from 1992 to 1996, Bosnian Muslims flooded into the streets and cheered, sang and danced at the news of Karadzic's arrest. The streets were clogged with cars honking their horns.
The chief prosecutor of The Hague tribunal, Serge Brammertz, congratulated the Serb authorities on the arrest. “This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade,” he said. “It is also an important day for international justice, because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice.”
If Karadzic is handed over to the tribunal, he would be the 44th Serb to be brought to trial. So far, the most prominent defendant has been the former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, who was overthrown in 2000 and died of a heart attack in detention while awaiting trial in The Hague six years later.
‘The Osama Bin Laden of Europe ‘
UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon hailed the arrest as an “historic moment,” adding that the victims of the Bosnian wars had waited 13 years for justice. The US government celebrated the arrest as a tribute to the victims of the wartime atrocities. According to Richard Holbrooke, the former US Balkans envoy, an important criminal — who he branded the “Osama Bin Laden of Europe” — had been taken off the world stage.
The opposition Serb nationalists, however, criticized Karadzic's arrest. Aleksandar Vucic, the general secretary of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) lamented the loss “of people who are symbols of patriotism.” The arrest was a favor to the EU by the new pro-European government after Brussels had supported the governing parties in the past.
Following Karadzic's arrest, the UN tribunal now has only two alleged war criminals remaining on its most-wanted list: Karadzic's former right-hand man Mladic and the former Serb leader in Croatia, Goran Hadzic. In the Bosnian war between 1992 and 1995 — the worst bloodshed in Europe since the end of World War II — around 250,000 people were murdered and around 1.8 million had to flee their homes.