Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:20 pm (KSA) 09:20 am (GMT)

Top Serb war crimes suspect Karadzic arrested

Karadzic (R) with Ratko Mladic in 1993 (File)
Karadzic (R) with Ratko Mladic in 1993 (File)

Captured war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men, was arrested on genocide charges while practising medicine under a fake name in Belgrade, officials said Tuesday.

Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader who had managed to remain at large for 13 years despite an international manhunt, was arrested by Serbian security forces on Monday night.

Despite his status as one of the most wanted men on the planet, Karadzic, 63, had been working in a medical clinic with only a false name and a beard to conceal his identity.

Karadzic worked in clinic under false name

"He was working and performing alternative medicine, making money that way," said Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian minister in charge of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

"He was very convincing in hiding his identity," said Ljajic, who held up a photograph of Karadzic with almost hippy-like long white hair and beard.

Of all the ICTY fugitives , Karadzic was always the subject of the most fevered speculation about his whereabouts.

He had last been seen in public in the eastern Bosnian town of Han Pijesak in July 1996, and was previously thought to have hidden away in Serb-controlled parts of Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia, or even Russia.

Serbian accession to EU

Following his capture, he was questioned by a magistrate who concluded that "all conditions have been met for his transfer" to The Hague for trial, Serbia's war crimes prosecutor told reporters.

The arrest of Karadzic -- wanted for orchestrating two of Europe's worst atrocities since World War II, the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre -- means there are only two more fugitives of the UN court at large.

They are his former military commander Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, 49, a former Serb politician wanted for "ethnic cleansing" in Croatia.

The handover of the war crimes fugitives is a major pre-condition for Serbian accession to the European Union.

Karadzic's arrest took place two weeks after the formation of a new pro-EU membership government dominated by President Boris Tadic's pro-Western Democratic Party.

It also came only four days after Sasa Vukadinovic, close to the Democrats, became the head of Serbia's police intelligence agency, replacing an official aligned with former hardline nationalist prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Karadzic's arrest was welcomed by the United States, the European Union, and the U.N. war crimes court.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon hailed it as "a historic moment for the victims" and praised Serbia for taking a "decisive step" toward ending impunity for those indicted for war crimes.

Muslims celebrate

Bosnian Croats and Muslims, against whom Karadzic waged a barbaric campaign of "ethnic cleansing" in the early 1990s, see him as a murderous megalomaniac.

"I had lost all hope that this would ever happen. But the wheels of justice grind slowly," said Sejo Hodzic, who was shot by a sniper during the Sarajevo siege.

While Muslims staged noisy celebrations on the streets of the capital Sarajevo, Serbs in Karadzic's wartime stronghold town of Pale expressed their anger and disappointment.

"It's not fair. Only Serbs stand war crimes trials at The Hague," said Slavko Vasic, 45.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who served as a mediator in the Balkans conflict, hailed the capture of Karadzic as "late, late, late, but good, good, good."

"A major thug has been removed from the scene," former US envoy to the Balkans Richard Holbrooke said, describing Karadzic as the "Osama bin Laden of Europe."

But the Russian foreign ministry stressed any trial should be "impartial," accusing the U.N. court of "an often biased approach."

Karadzic's legal representative, Svetozar Vujacic, said his client had been "calm and composed" under questioning and would appeal the decision to transfer him to The Hague.

Ethnic cleansing

In the bitter war against Bosnia's Muslim-led government, Karadzic is said to have authorised "ethnic cleansing" in which more than a million non-Serbs were driven from their homes in villages where they had lived for generations.

The expulsions were accompanied, according to foreign observers, by widespread killings and up to 20,000 rapes in a calculated programme of terror.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he hoped Karadzic's arrest would now help unblock a key EU-Serbia accord.

"We have to talk to the prosecutor of the international tribunal, but I am almost certain he is going to say there is full cooperation," Solana said.

Belgrade urged Mladic and Hadzic to give themselves up, and said Karadzic's arrest proved the new government's commitment to respecting its legal obligations and speeding up its EU accession bid.

"I call on the remaining Hague indictees to voluntarily surrender as this is both in the state and their interests," Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac said.

Karadzic was a close ally of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in custody in The Hague in 2006, before the ICTY delivered a verdict in his case.

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