Radovan Karadzic hid in plain view to elude capture
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
BELGRADE, Serbia -- For more than a decade, the world's most-wanted war crimes fugitive displayed a talent for eluding international justice. His secret? Hide in plain sight.
In a ruse worthy of any thriller, Radovan Karadzic transformed himself from a leader instantly recognizable by his famous shock of salt-and-pepper hair into a man resembling a New Age mystic, with a flowing white beard and black robe.
Believed to be protected by a coterie of ultranationalists, the former Bosnian Serb strongman -- a doctor and psychiatrist who received training in the U.S. -- worked at an alternative medicine clinic in Belgrade.
Karadzic's disguise was so effective that prosecutors say he walked freely around town without being noticed and even his landlords didn't know his true identity.
A photograph displayed by prosecutors at a news conference Tuesday showed a gaunt elderly man unrecognizable from the robust warlord who strutted brashly before his troops during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
That life on the run ended abruptly with Karadzic's capture Monday -- an arrest made possible by the election of a new pro-Western government that tightened the dragnet around the war crimes suspect.
Many observers have long suspected that recently fallen prime minister Vojislav Kostunica, a nationalist with close ties to Karadzic during the Bosnian war, had shielded him from arrest.
Karadzic's capture has broad political implications -- for the future of the U.N. war crimes tribunal, eventual closure of the cycle of Balkan blood feuds and for Serbia's fitful journey out of international isolation.
The wartime Bosnian Serb leader stands accused of genocide for masterminding the deadly siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, Europe's worst carnage since the end of World War II.
The fugitive had been masquerading as an expert in "human quantum energy" using the fake name "D.D. David" printed on his business card. The initials apparently stood for Dragan Dabic, an alias authorities said he used.
He even had his own Web site -- www.psy-help-energy.com -- and gave lectures before hundreds of people on alternative medicine. The site displays pictures of metallic bullet-shaped amulets and Orthodox crosses with wires running out of them.
TV footage provided by a local station to Associated Press Television News shows Karadzic sitting on a panel at a medical conference, glancing nervously at the cameraman next to him -- another glimpse into his knife's-edge life of hiding in plain view.
Using his alias, Karadzic was a regular contributor to the Serbian alternative medicine magazine "Healthy Life;" its editor Goran Kojic said he was stunned when he saw the photo of Karadzic on TV and realized the bizarre truth.
"It never even occurred to me that this man with a long white beard and hair was Karadzic," Kojic said. "He was eloquent and a bit strange, like a true bohemian."
Karadzic's whereabouts had been a mystery since he went on the run in 1998, with his hideouts reportedly including monasteries and mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. The U.S. set a $5 million bounty for his arrest.
For years it has been widely assumed that Karadzic's whereabouts were known to nationalist supporters and even to high-ranking Serbian officials. One cartoon depicted Karadzic clandestinely enjoying the company of Kostunica himself. But in the murky labyrinth of postwar Serbia, such accusations could never quite be proven.
The picture painted by officials suggested a successful search -- as opposed to the end of protection.
But few in Serbia failed to link the capture to the recent establishment of a largely pro-Western government committed to bringing Serbia into the European Union, which has been demanding the handover of war criminals.
EU officials said Tuesday the arrest would boost Serbia's EU prospects.
The arrest signals "the commitment of Serbia to continue the rapprochement to the European Union," French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said in New York, speaking for the EU.
"Europeans want Serbia to be part of the European Union, and this last development is certainly a very good sign of this willingness," added Ripert, whose nation holds the EU's rotating presidency for the second half of this year.
Serbian security services said they found Karadzic on Monday while looking for another top war crimes suspect facing genocide charges, Bosnian Serb wartime commander Gen. Ratko Mladic. The connection -- why the search for one led to the other -- was not explained.
Prosecutors said Karadzic was arrested while waiting for a bus in a grim part of Belgrade known as a nationalist stronghold. Authorities refused to reveal more details, saying Karadzic's movements were being analyzed and would be kept secret until Mladic's capture.
"We are absolutely determined to finish this job," said Rasim Ljajic, a Serbian government official in charge of war crimes.
Karadzic's lawyer Sveta Vujcic claimed his client was arrested Friday, not on Monday as authorities say. He said Karadzic was hooded during the capture and kept for three days in solitary confinement.
A judge ordered Karadzic's transfer to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, to face genocide charges, war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic said. Karadzic has three days to appeal the ruling.
Karadzic's family in Bosnia, banned from leaving the country over suspicions they helped him elude capture, asked Tuesday to have the restrictions lifted, his daughter told The Associated Press.
Sonja Karadzic said family members want to spend at least a few hours with Karadzic before his transfer to U.N. custody.
"We even suggested traveling under police escort to see him for at least for a few hours," she said. "For years we have not seen our father, husband and grandfather. My mother's health is not very good, and we do not have the financial means necessary to travel to the Netherlands."
During the siege of Sarajevo that began in 1992, Bosnian Serb troops starved, sniped at and bombarded the population, operating from strongholds in Pale and Vraca high above the city, and controlling nearly all roads in and out.
Inhabitants were kept alive by a fragile lifeline of food aid and supplies provided by U.N. donors and peacekeepers. Walking down the street to shop for groceries or driving down a main road that became known as "Sniper Alley" was a risk to their lives.
The siege was not officially over until February 1996. An estimated 10,000 people died in Sarajevo.
The worst massacre of the war was in Srebrenica in 1995, when Serb troops led by Mladic overran the U.N.-protected enclave sheltering Bosnian Muslims. Mladic's troops rounded up the entire population and took the men and boys away for execution.
By war's end in late 1995, an estimated 250,000 people were dead and another 1.8 million driven from their homes.
Under the U.N. indictment, Karadzic faces 11 counts of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities committed between 1992 to 1996.
In Sarajevo, Bosnian Muslims rushed into the streets Monday night to celebrate the news of Karadzic's arrest.
"We have been waiting for 13 years and we lost hope. Now we know -- there is justice," said Kada Hotic, a survivor of Srebrenica massacre.