Ian Traynor in Zagreb
Monday May 9, 2005
Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Photograph: AP
Serbian authorities are under heavy pressure to locate and arrest Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader and perhaps the most wanted man in Europe, after at least two sightings of him in the Balkans in recent weeks, investigators said yesterday.
The genocide suspect has been seen on separate occasions with his wife and his brother, apparently in readiness for the death of his mother, Jovanka, 83, and to prepare for her funeral. Mrs Karadzic died of cancer on Thursday in Niksic, in her native Montenegro.
The sightings are rare and unusually solid, according to sources. They said the information was so sensitive that it could not be passed to western intelligence or to security services operating in the Balkans because of past experiences when "actionable intelligence" given to Nato officers in Bosnia was either leaked or not acted upon.
The investigators have concluded that the Serbian government, which has recently started turning over high-level suspects to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague, now offers the best chance of arresting Dr Karadzic, who has been on the run for nine years.
"No one has been told except the Serbs. You can't trust anyone with this," said one investigator involved in the hunt.
Aware in recent weeks that Mrs Karadzic was dying, investigators have quietly intensified their hunt for her son, using local informers cultivated over a long period in the Serb regions of Bosnia.
Dr Karadzic was reportedly seen having lunch with his wife, Ljiljana, in a restaurant in south-eastern Bosnia on April 14. He was wearing a suit, the sources said, and his appearance was not unlike the man familiar from the television screens during the Bosnian civil war of the mid-1990s.
A week after this sighting, he was spotted again, in Belgrade, with his brother, Luka. It is assumed that his reported meetings with family members and his formal dress were connected with his mother's illness and preparations for her funeral, which was held in Niksic on Saturday.
Dr Karadzic had not been expected to risk attending the funeral, and was not seen among the several hundred people there, some of whom wore T-shirts with the slogan "Serbian hero".
Luka Karadzic told the ceremony that Mrs Karadzic's "greatest grief today is that her first joy - her eldest son - could not say the final farewell, rather than me".
International forces in Bosnia had stepped up their patrols on the Montenegrin border in case of a sighting.
Two Montenegrin newspapers carried obituary notices placed by the family, with Radovan Karadzic's name top of the condolence list. A Serbian nationalist newspaper reported the mother's last words as: "Radovan, do not surrender to the enemy."
Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the tribunal in the Netherlands, took the risky decision last week to give the information to Belgrade.
A source said: "We can't go near [Mrs Karadzic's] house. We'd be killed. But they [Serbs and Montenegrins] have to have it all under surveillance. This is a very good chance for them to deliver. If they do not, we know they are not serious. It's a big test."
After Mrs Karadzic's death, tribunal officials again asked Belgrade what it was doing to capture Dr Karadzic. The decision to supply the intelligence to Belgrade reflects the narrow options available to Ms Del Ponte in seeking the arrest of Dr Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, both wanted on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity stemming from their leadership of the Serb campaign against Bosnia's Muslims from 1992 to 1995.
Apart from about a dozen teams of investigators working on cases in the Balkans, Ms del Ponte also has three roving detectives or intelligence agents trying to track the movements of wanted suspects, the most important of whom are Dr Karadzic, Gen Mladic, and the fugitive Croatian general Ante Gotovina.
Tribunal officials are bitter at what they call the "sterility" of the international forces in Bosnia over war crimes inves tigations. The European Union took over peacekeeping from Nato in Bosnia last year, but the Atlantic alliance and United States forces retain a small unit there, devoted to tracking suspects and gathering intelligence.
"We still haven't seen any serious arrests. The last arrest they did was in July 2002," said a senior tribunal source. "I can't give the internationals much credit for anything." A undercover US agent, seen by some investigators as being highly effective in tracking war-crimes suspects, was recently fired by the Nato command in Sarajevo.
Knowledgeable officials in Ms del Ponte's office are also reluctant to pass on any information to western European or US intelligence for fear that this might hinder rather than help catch the suspects.
Ms del Ponte has said that if Dr Karadzic and Gen Mladic were still at large by the end of this year, she would release details of how Nato forces in Bosnia have allegedly obstructed the hunts.
"The forces in Bosnia complain that any actionable intelligence is leaked by The Hague. And they say we give them bad information," said one senior official. "It's nonsense. On a few instances, we provided the information and they didn't act on it properly."
Dr Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president who once worked as team psychologist for Red Star Belgrade football club, has twice been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal. He is accused of playing a key role in the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
UN prosecutors say his forces murdered up to 6,000 Muslims at Srebrenica in July 1995 "in order to kill, terrorise and demoralise the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat population".
He has also been charged over the shelling of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and the use of UN peacekeepers as human shields in May and June 1995.
After the Bosnian civil war, Dr Karadzic went into hiding - possibly in the mountainous south-east of the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia.