Looking for Radovan

Raymond Whitaker

21 July 2000

Anywhere else in Europe, the road to Foca (pronounced "Fotcha") would be filled with holidaymakers' cars. It winds down through a series of rocky gorges, each more breathtaking than the last, carved out by a river so achingly clear that you long to plunge in. Yet vehicles are few and far between, and the river is empty apart from the odd fisherman.

No tourists are likely to come this way any time soon, for the road crosses back and forth between the two halves of Bosnia. Even before you leave the outskirts of Sarajevo, the capital of the Muslim-Croat Federation, you are in the Serb-controlled part. Here the boundary follows the front line as it was when the Dayton Accords stopped the Bosnian war less than five years ago, and in 10 minutes you can drive from the heart of the city to the heights from which Serb gunners poured mortar bombs and shells into the streets below. Their ammunition boxes still litter the slopes.

For the rest of the journey you are in Serb territory, except for a finger of land, agreed over several whiskies at Dayton, which gives the Federation access to the town of Gorazde. The limits of this enclave are no longer defined by trenches or tanks, but by giant billboards saying (in English) "Welcome to Republika Srpska".

When you reach Foca, there is a problem. It is on the opposite bank of the beautiful Drina, celebrated in Serbian folk-song, but the main bridge into the town was demolished by the Nato airstrikes in 1995, which finally persuaded the Serbs to get serious about peace talks. To cross over you have to continue another mile upstream to the next bridge – inconvenient, maybe, but not to local residents who would like as much warning as possible of your approach. Foca is also close to the Serbian, Montenegrin and Croatian borders, which is useful if, as rumour has it, one of the world's most wanted men is hiding in the vicinity: a man still known as "the doctor", who proclaimed the foundation of a Serb republic in Bosnia with himself as president, and ordered the bombardment of Sarajevo.

The bouffant hair and cynically amused features of Radovan Karadzic, psychiatrist, soi-disant poet and indicted war criminal, disappeared from sight two years ago. "Karadzic went completely underground in 1998," said his former defence minister, Milan Ninkovic, who has reason to fear indictment himself. "Nobody has seen or heard from him since; there have been no messages. We are all trying to work out whether he is in Republika Srpska, Serbia or maybe Russia."

The whereabouts of Ratko Mladic, the military commander indicted with Karadzic for the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslims at Srbrenica five years ago, are known. Journalists have pinpointed his house in west Belgrade, and he is occasionally seen at a racecourse nearby, as well as the odd football match. But of his partner in genocide, according to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, there is no sign.

The ex-president's wife, Ljiljana, is still head of the Red Cross in Republika Srpska, and makes public appearances before carefully-selected audiences. Last week in Pale, the ski resort near Sarajevo used by Karadzic as his headquarters during the war, she issued a statement to mark the tenth anniversary of his Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The foreign press was not invited. "Although their marriage is still strong, they spend much of the time apart," said a source in Pale. "For the sake of his security, she often doesn't know where he is. But I think he still comes here sometimes – when you see certain faces in town, he is said to be around. The last time was two or three months ago."

In Karadzic's looming absence, stories have grown. Many people have heard that the self-promoting poet has turned to religious mysticism. Perhaps, in the tradition of Balkan holy men, he is allowing his beard to grow. One source in Foca claimed to have it on good authority that the fugitive was writing his memoirs, which seems plausible enough, but whether he could get them published is another matter.

Rumours that the doctor had decamped to the Foca area began two or three months ago, about the time that The Hague netted its biggest fish. In April, French troops seized Momcilo Krajisnik, not only a senior former associate of Karadzic, but the man who took over his role as a nationalist figurehead, at his home in Pale. They were using a powerful new weapon devised by the tribunal: the secret indictment, which means that you do not know you are on the wanted list until you are arrested.

Using this tool, the tide of arrests has accelerated sharply in the past few months. The SAS regularly takes part in snatches in the British zone of Bosnia, most recently in Prijedor last month, when Dusko Sikirica, commander of the notorious Keraterm prison camp during the war, was taken from his home in the middle of the night and flown to The Netherlands within hours. According to the Serbian media, the rewards on offer have even led to suspects being kidnapped in Serbia and brought to Bosnia.

No one will confirm it, but Serbian policemen are said to have helped lure one man out of his home. He was then bundled into a car, rowed across the Drina into Bosnia and handed over to the Americans.

The pressure is beginning to tell on people like Mr Ninkovic, the Republika Srpska defence minister from 1994 to 1996. Helicopters frequently hover over his home in the town of Doboj; when I asked to take his photograph, he hesitated, then said: "Why not – they have plenty anyway."

For Mr Ninkovic, too, the arrest of Momcilo Krajisnik is worrying, because it implies that the war crimes tribunal is now going after politicians in office at the time of the atrocities as well as the soldiers who carried them out – "objective responsibility", in the jargon, as opposed to "command responsibility". He had agreed to an interview to make it clear that there was no reason why he should be indicted.

"Although I was defence minister, my main task was to organise the mobilisation of civilians," he said. "I had no power to order anything operational." But did he see the orders? "What do you expect?" he replied, glaring.

"Mladic issued the orders to the troops," said Mr Ninkovic. "He was not obliged to inform me. I only received orders to supply rations. It wasn't like in your country, where ministers have power.

"Karadzic was the supreme commander and Mladic the commander of the Republika Srpska army, although he took most of his orders from Belgrade," Mr Ninkovic continued. "At the time of Dayton I piloted a law through the assembly to increase civilian control of the military, and Mladic didn't like that. He arrested me. I thought I was going to be executed. I was released because Patriarch Pavle, the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, intervened."

Mr Ninkovic said that at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, when General Mladic was filmed on the scene, he was at the other end of Bosnia, where the Croatians were driving Serb forces back. But that might not absolve him from a trip to The Hague to explain himself. "The minister is very popular in Doboj," an associate said before his arrival. "He goes around openly, and doesn't have bodyguards." If he is arrested, however, there is unlikely to be the angry reaction Serbs might have mounted a year ago. Steady and persistent international pressure appears to have worn them down to sullen resignation.

"We are under occupation," Alexander Draskovic, a hardliner banned from office by the international authorities, told me in Srebrenica. But what was he doing about it? He was getting drunk in a café, and complaining that the international community was "doing nothing to help the town". If Mr Draskovic and Mr Ninkovic are any sign, the forces of reason may be getting the upper hand.

When the civilised world intervenes in a crisis, it douses the flames with alphabet soup. In Bosnia there is the OHR (Office of the High Representative of more than 50 countries, in effect the Western pro-consul); UNMIBH (the United Nations Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina); the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which enforces democracy by excluding people such as Mr Ninkovic) and hundreds of others, such as the IPTF (International Police Task Force, which supervises the local police). The military peacekeepers have gone from being called Unprofor to I-For (Implementation Force) to S-For (Stabilisation Force).

Some people, the Federation authorities among them, complain that even this mountain of acronyms does not weigh heavily enough on the Serbs. S-For mounted a big security operation last week to protect 3,000 Muslim widows when they returned to Srebrenica to mark the fifth anniversary of the massacre of their menfolk, but one man pointed out that the Serbs still had a military post next door. "S-For will be going back to their bases in the Federation," he said. "They don't patrol around here at night."

Still, the Serb civilians along the way confined themselves to jeering, and the commemoration ceremony went without incident. It was attended by the Bosnian president, Alia Izetbegovic, the first time he has been on Republika Srpska territory since the war. Gradually, with many inter-agency muddles and political mistakes along the way, the international community has learnt to squeeze Bosnia where it hurts. Secret indictments are keeping the "Pifwics" (Persons Indicted for War Crimes) off-balance, but money is also talking.

Desperate to get their share of development funds, the SDS has purged the hardliners. The Republika Srpska government has moved from Pale to the more enlightened atmosphere of Banja Luka in central Bosnia, where people from Serbia are amazed at the array of outspoken publications on the newsstands, as well as the range of goods in the shops. Muslims have been elected to the councils of places such as Doboj and even Srebrenica, and the OHR claims it is on the verge of success in forcing significant numbers of people to return to their old homes.

Even in Foca, where three Serbs in The Hague are accused of rape, torture and sex slavery, and the IPTF post was stormed last year after a war crimes suspect was shot dead while allegedly resisting arrest, Muslims are coming back. Since 1 June the head of the municipal council has been a Muslim, Lutvo Sukalo, who was in the Federation army during the war. He predicts that large numbers of Muslims will return this year, and not just to the outskirts, but to the centre of town. "A psychological block has been removed, especially when it comes to freedom of movement in Bosnia," he said.

Mr Sukalo works closely with his fellow engineer and technocrat, Dragolub Pipovic, a former Republika Srpska conscript who now runs the municipal administration. "The situation has changed," said Mr Pipovic. "People are forgetting the war. They are more interested in jobs and the economy." Foca is on a list of municipalities where the US refuses to invest because of its hardline reputation, but the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development plans to complete the bridge across the Drina by the end of the year.

If Radovan Karadzic is hiding in the hills behind the town, the new bridge will make it quicker and easier to get at him, but there are suggestions that the international community is more interested in promoting reconstruction and the reversal of ethnic cleansing than in looking for him, because such efforts are making him an irrelevance in any case. So is the doctor around? "I don't know," laughed Mr Sukalo, "but if I see him I'll let you know."

Original article