The hunt for fugitive Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has finally come to an end, a decade after it began.
Serbian security forces arrested Karadzic on Monday night in a Belgrade suburb. Karadzic, who topped the list of wanted Balkans war criminals, had apparently been hiding in plain sight for several years, living in the Serbian capital, and even practicing alternative medicine.
At the time of his capture, Karadzic had a full beard, long hair and glasses, a far cry from his carefully coiffed appearance of the mid-1990s, when he led Bosnian Serb factions in their war against Muslims and Croats.
Government official Rasim Ljajic said Karadzic, once known for his distinctive hairdo, was unrecognizable.
"His false identity was very convincing," Vukcevic said. "Even his landlords were unaware of his identity."
Karadzic used a false name, Dragan Dabic, Ljajic said.
The editor in chief of Belgrade's "Healthy Life" magazine, Goran Kojic, said he was shocked when he saw the photo of Karadzic on TV, recognizing him as a regular contributor to the publication.
"It never even occurred to me that this man with a long white beard and hair was Karadzic," Kojic said.
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.
According to the AP, Serb security agents were actually looking for another wanted war criminal—former Bosnian Serb Army Commander Ratko Mladic—when they intercepted Karadzic.
The former psychiatrist-turned-political leader is accused of master-minding the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s, and the massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim civilians at Srebrenica in 1995. In connection with those crimes, Karadzic is facing genocide charges at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.
Karadzic plans to fight extradition to the Netherlands, according to his attorney.
European leaders—and Karadzic’s surviving victims—expressed joy over his capture. But few addressed the lingering question of why it took so long to capture the Bosnian Serb leader, arguably the most wanted fugitive this side of Osama bin Laden.
We may never know the full story, but there were certain, ahem, factors that allowed Karadzic to remain at large. His brand of Serbian nationalism remains popular in certain segments of the population, and Karadzic almost certainly received assistance from scores of individuals over the past decade.
Included in that group are ordinary civilians and Serb officials who were loyal to Karadzic and his movement in the 1990s. The fact that Karadzic was discovered “accidentally” (during a hunt for Mladic) speaks volumes about his ability to live quietly in Belgrade, and resume a medical practice.
Along with Karadzic’s Serb allies, there were also those on the NATO side who preferred that he remain at large. And who would those officials be? Former diplomats and military officers who participated in negotiations with Karadzic and Mladic in the 1990s, cutting deals that were never completely disclosed.
Ironically, the details of those talks may finally come to light, once Karadzic is extradited to The Hague, and faces trial for war crimes. Former Serb President Slobodan Milosevic put on a spirited defense during his time in the dock, offering evidence and testimony that was, at times, embarrassing to the western alliance. However, Milosevic died in the middle of his trial, before he could be convicted by the court.
Karadzic will almost certainly use the same tactics in his trial, attempting to subpoena former officials like Madeline Albright, William Cohen and Wesley Clark, among others. General Clark served as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the mid-1990s, and was an active participant in discussions with Bosnia Serb leaders. Clark’s reputation could be further stained by evidence revealed at a Karadzic trial.
But there is some good news for western officials who might be cross-examined by Mr. Karadzic’s defense team. It will be years before the “Butcher of the Balkans” goes on trial, and the case will drag on for years after that. At the age of 63—and after years on the run--there is no guarantee that Karadzic will make it through the court proceedings.
Meanwhile, there are former U.S. and European officials who hope that Karadzic will follow Milosevic’s example, and expire before his trial is complete. Mr. Karadzic is expected to level some damning charges against NATO during his day in court; former architects of our policies in the Balkans (or, at least some of them) would prefer that Karadzic carry his claims to the grave.