RICHARD BEESTONStill on the run but net is closing in
September 2 2000
With his bouffant hairstyle and his crumpled double-breasted suits, Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, cuts an unlikely figure as one of the world's most wanted war criminals.
And yet the elusive former psychiatrist, who spends his life under heavy guard and on the run from Nato forces, is widely regarded as the mastermind of the worst crimes against humanity in Europe since the Second World War.
Like so many of the most notorious figures who came to prominence during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia from 1991 to 1995, Dr Karadzic emerged from relative obscurity to lead the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), the local Serb nationalist movement.
Under the guise of fighting for the rights of the Serbs in Bosnia, he and his military commander Ratko Mladic launched a campaign against the fledgling Bosnian state, often with the backing of the Yugoslav Army. The war turned into a massacre with the Serbs orchestrating a vicious campaign directed at Muslim and Croat civilians, who were "ethnically cleansed" from large tracts of the country, while their homes were systemactically looted and destroyed.
The two indictments against Dr Karadzic before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, list a lengthy catalogue of crimes, including: the murder of civilians during the sieges of Sarajevo and other cities; running concentration camps, where inmates were raped, killed and tortured; and using hundreds of UN peacekeepers as human shields against the threat of Nato bombing.
The most serious single charge remains the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, when as many as 7,000 men were rounded up and shot after the city fell to Bosnian Serb forces. As the Bosnian Serb political leader, Dr Karadzic was at the top of the chain of command of a disciplined fighting force and is therefore considered responsible for the actions of his men.
Although he later insisted that he would be ready to defend himself in court, in one of his last interviews with the Western media before going into hiding he accused the tribunal in the The Hague of being a politically-motivated body set up by the West to persecute the Serb nation.
"If The Hague was a real judicial body, I would be ready to go there to testify or do so on television, but it is a political body that has been created to blame the Serbs," he told The Times in his heavily-accented but fluent English.
Despite the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in 1995 and his removal from power, Dr Karadzic nonetheless remains a potent political force with strong personal and business ties to the local Serb community. It is widely believed in Bosnia that until he is arrested and put on trial real peace can never return.
In principle that should be straightforward for the 20,000-strong Nato force deployed in the country. Although he rarely stays in any one place for a long time, Dr Karadzic is regularly spotted near his stronghold at Pale, outside Sarajevo, and is also believed to be living in hiding in the remote south eastern area of Bosnia where he is under heavy guard. His wife Ljiljana remains the head of the Bosnian Serb Red Cross and his daughter runs a television and radio station in Pale. He is also thought to spend time in Montenegro, his birthplace, where his mother Jovankas still lives.
He has apparently calculated that Nato is not willing to sacrifice the men necessary to capture him, nor does the alliance want to run the risk of reigniting Serb nationalism at a critical time when Bosnia's different communities are attempting to cohabit.
Nevertheless any feeling of security will have evaporated after the arrest by French Nato forces in April of Momcilo Krajisnik, Dr Karadzic's former deputy, who is now in custody at The Hague.
If Dr Karadzic feels that Nato is finally closing in he could decide to follow Mladic's example and flee Bosnia for the relative safety of Belgrade. His son has lived there for several years as a businessman and Dr Karadzic would be beyond Nato's reach as long as the regime of President Milosevic, another indicted war criminal, remained in power.
However, that would mean conceding defeat and effectively going into exile for an uncertain future in Serbia, where his relations with the authorities have been strained in the past.