BELGRADE, Serbia – Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, accused architect of massacres making him one of the world’s top war crimes fugitives, was arrested Monday evening in a raid that ended a near 13-year manhunt, the country’s president and the U.N. tribunal said.
Karadzic is the suspected mastermind of mass killings that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as “scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.” They include the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe’s worst slaughter since World War II.
“This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade. It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law,” said Serge Brammertz, the tribunal’s head prosecutor.
President Boris Tadic’s office said Karadzic has been taken before the investigative judge of Serbia’s war crimes court — a legal procedure that indicates he could soon be extradited to the U.N. court at The Hague, Netherlands.
If Karadzic is transferred to there, he would be the 44th Serb suspect extradited to the tribunal. The others include former President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000 and died in 2006 while on trial on war crimes charges.
Heavily armed special forces have been deployed around the war crimes court in Belgrade where Karadzic reportedly was being held. Karadzic’s brother, Luka, also arrived at the location in central Belgrade.
Serbian police deployed throughout central Belgrade as well as in front of the U.S. embassy, which was targeted in nationalist rioting over Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February.
The White House called the arrest “an important demonstration of the Serbian Government’s determination to honor its commitment to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal.”
The former Bosnian Serb leader has topped the tribunal’s most-wanted list since his indictment in July 1995 and Serbia has been under increasing international pressure to find and turn him over.
“He was at large because the Yugoslav army was protecting him. But this guy in my view was worse than Milosevic,” Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador who negotiated an end to the Bosnian War, told CNN. “He was the intellectual leader.”
Holbrooke calculated the Karadzic is responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of 300,000 people, because without him there would have been no war or genocide.
The charges against him, last amended in May 2000, are genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, deportation, inhumane acts, and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war. The specific allegations include six counts of genocide and complicity in genocide, two counts of crimes against humanity as well as violating laws of war and gravely breaching the Geneva Conventions
The indictment alleges that Karadzic, in concert with others, committed the crimes to secure control of areas of Bosnia which had been proclaimed part of the “Serbian Republic” and significantly reducing its non-Serb population.
“These offenses include a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing directed at non-Serbs, organized attacks on places of worship, the operation of concentration camps, and the mass murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians,” the White House said in a statement.
The fugitive’s wife, Ljiljana, told The Associated Press by phone from her home in Karadzic’s former stronghold, Pale, near Sarajevo that her daughter Sonja had called her before midnight.
“As the phone rang, I knew something was wrong. I’m shocked. Confused. At least now, we know he is alive,” Ljiljana Karadzic said, declining further comment.
As leader of Bosnia’s Serbs, Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war, set off when a government dominated by Slavic Muslims and Croats declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.
But his life changed by the time the war ended in late 1995 with an estimated 250,000 people dead and another 1.8 million driven from their homes. He was indicted twice by the U.N. tribunal on genocide charges stemming from his alleged crimes against Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.
Karadzic’s reported hide-outs included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his trademark silver mane and donning a brown cassock.
The European Union said the arrest “illustrates the commitment of the new Belgrade government to contributing to peace and stability in the Balkans region.”
A statement from the EU presidency, currently held by France, said the arrest was “an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union.”
On Saturday, Serb authorities turned over an ex-Bosnian Serb police chief, Stojan Zupljanin, who was arrested in the town of Pancevo last week after nine years on the run. A Belgrade court on Friday rejected his appeal against extradition and Zupljanin pleaded innocent Monday to 12 charges of murder, torture and persecution of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in 1992.
Zupljanin was charged with war crimes for allegedly overseeing Serb-run prison camps where thousands of Muslims and Croats were killed during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia.