Despite optimism of war crimes prosecutor, Karadzic eludes UN tribunal
Associated Press Writer
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Serbia-Montenegro’s president said Wednesday his country is ready to extradite fugitives to the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the Balkans, and the top international administrator for Bosnia fired dozens of officials believed to be hampering the court’s work.
The key developments for the U.N. court in the Hague came as its most-wanted suspect, Radovan Karadzic, was still at large, despite predictions by Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that his arrest would happen before the end of June.
Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader during the wars of the 1990s that broke apart Yugoslavia, has eluded justice for nearly nine years.
The tribunal has stepped up pressure on Serbian leaders in recent months by reporting their failure to cooperate with the court to the U.N. Security Council, which can impose economic sanctions.
Also, the change of position by Serbia-Montenegro came after the weekend election of a pro-Western leader in Serbia, the dominant country in the two-republic union that replaced Yugoslavia. Reformer Boris Tadic won in a runoff poll against a hard-line nationalist ally of former autocrat Slobodan Milosevic, who fueled ethnic wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Serb province of Kosovo.
Karadzic was indicted for genocide in 1995 – along with his top general, Ratko Mladic – for the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims from the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica. They are among 20 fugitives still sought by the tribunal for crimes allegedly committed during the Balkan wars.
Comments by Del Ponte on Tuesday in New York, after she addressed the U.N. Security Council, had left the impression that Karadzic’s hand-over was imminent. Some media even reported he had been caught.
Asked about Karadzic’s arrest, Del Ponte had said: “Of course I have (information). But you all understand that I cannot tell it now publicly. Let’s obtain the arrest of Karadzic, and after we will speak about what we have done.”
Responding to a question about her earlier comment that Karadzic would be arrested before June 30, he said: “I’m still expecting (it), yes. But let’s see.”
But the following day her spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, sought to tone down the prosecutor’s comments, which she said had been “completely twisted” out of context.
“She expects, she hopes, and we will not give up,” Hartmann said. “Just when it will be, we don’t know.”
Karadzic has eluded a massive manhunt, escaping regular raids by NATO peacekeepers at the homes of his family, his former political headquarters, and businesses of his former associates.
Some believe he has long fled the Balkans, possibly to Russia, where Milosevic’s wife, Mira Markovic – also a war crimes fugitive – is believed to be hiding.
Del Ponte’s optimistic comments may have been provoked by the pending dismissals of 60 Bosnian Serb officials that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s international administrator, Paddy Ashdown, announced Wednesday.
Among those fired for stonewalling Karadzic’s capture were Bosnian Serb Parliament Speaker Dragan Kalinic and Zoran Djeric, the interior minister in charge of police in the Serb half of Bosnia.
Others dismissed were senior politicians of the party founded by Karadzic, along with lower party officials, heads of state companies and some local police chiefs.
Ashdown said the dismissals were part of a 10-point package “designed to reduce the influence of those who … obstruct this country’s progress toward stability and the rule of law.”