Serbia IDs the man behind Karadzic's false identity

Friday, July 25, 2008

BELGRADE, Serbia -- The real Dragan Dabic has emerged -- and the 66-year-old construction worker was shocked Thursday to discover his identity had apparently been stolen by one of the world's most notorious war crimes suspects.

Radovan Karadzic assumed Dabic's identity as a cover during the autocratic rule of his mentor Slobodan Milosevic, officials said Thursday, promising to track down anyone who helped the Bosnian Serb warlord stay on the run from genocide charges for nearly 13 years.

The true Dabic lives in Ruma, a Serbian town just north of Belgrade, according to Rasim Ljajic, a government official in charge of war crimes.

"Dabic's ID differs from Karadzic's only in the photographs of the two," Ljajic said.

That discovery certainly altered Dabic's plans for the day.

"Instead of working in the garden, I'm being besieged by reporters and answering telephone calls," Dabic said in Ruma, adding that he had no idea how the copy of his ID ended up in Karadzic's hands.

"This is unfair. Instead of finding out who really cooked this up, I'm being questioned by police," said Dabic, who has no physical resemblance to Karadzic.

It also meant that all earlier reports on other Dragan Dabics -- one official said there were seven dead or alive in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo alone -- were tossed aside as false leads.

Officials were trying to figure out whether Karadzic's ID was a fake or an official copy of Dabic's original.

Authorities said Karadzic was captured in Belgrade on Monday and is awaiting extradition to the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. However, Karadzic's lawyer insisted his client was captured last Friday.

Lawyer Sveta Vujacic said Karadzic told him to file a lawsuit against "unidentified persons" who abducted Karadzic last Friday. Vujacic said Karadzic was taken off a public bus in a Belgrade suburb, hooded and transferred to an unknown location where he was kept for three days.

"We have three witnesses who have contacted us, who saw all this," Vujacic said.

The comments were seen as an attempt to postpone Karadzic's extradition as long as possible.

Bruno Vekaric, spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, said Karadzic obtained the false papers while Milosevic's regime was still in power. Milosevic was ousted in a popular revolt in October 2000.

Those suspected of helping Karadzic evade justice will be prosecuted, Vekaric said, adding that authorities hoped they could also help track down the remaining war crimes fugitives, including Bosnian Serb wartime military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic.

Several hundred ultranationalists -- chanting Karadzic's name and denouncing Serbia's new pro-Western government -- marched Thursday in downtown Belgrade in support of the former Bosnian Serb leader.

Karadzic sent word he plans to defend himself against U.N. genocide charges. But his fellow Serbs were more enthralled with details of his secret life: a mistress, a bogus family in the U.S. and regular visits to the Madhouse bar, where a photo showed him during his beardless days as wartime political leader of Bosnian Serbs.

The capture of Karadzic capped an extraordinary turnaround for Serbia, where just a few months ago thugs outraged at Kosovo's independence set part of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade on fire, and ultranationalists prepared to seize power.

In May, after decades of frustration with nationalists, a pro-Western bloc won national elections on a promise to bring the impoverished nation closer to mainstream Europe.

On Thursday, the government announced plans to reinstate ambassadors withdrawn from the 20 EU countries that supported Kosovo's independence. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said the return of ambassadors will help Serbia's attempts to one day join the European Union.

Serbia has no plans to return its ambassador to Washington or other non-EU states that recognized Kosovo.

In all, 42 nations have recognized Kosovo's independence, including the United States and 20 of the 27 EU members. Serbia, with strong Russian backing, remains vehemently opposed to Kosovo's split.

Associated Press Writers Jovana Gec and Katarina Kratovac contributed to this report.

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