Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Spies patrol old Karadzic haunt

The bearded man in the battered, old car, looked at us suspiciously and wrote something down as we crossed the remote border checkpoint between Bosnia and Montenegro.

Twenty minutes later, we were being tailed by two men travelling in a red jeep, keeping a steady distance behind us.

The same two men were in our hotel a couple of hours later, checking our documents behind the reception desk. Another man with a broken nose was leaning back on his chair trying to listen to our conversation.

Welcome to Montenegro or, more specifically, the town of Niksic in the north-west of the republic. Here, some believe, Europe's most wanted man, the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, is hiding out.

Suspicion and fear prevail.

"It's a priest's state. A state within a state," Dragica, 47, told me sotto voce in a cafe in the centre of town.

Church search

Outside, it had stopped raining and the new shift of secret policemen who had been following us all morning were wrapping up their umbrellas and pretending to be reading the local death notices posted on trees.

"They're involved in politics and all the decision-making. This place is run by the police and the Church, but they don't like each other," Dragica said.

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic (right): On the run for 10 years

Myself and some fellow journalists decided to check out local media reports that Mr Karadzic might be hiding in Church-owned buildings a few kilometres outside Niksic, in an annex of the famous Ostrog monastery.

The complex of buildings nestles in a natural bowl surrounded by hills. The only access is via a narrow, winding road, gradually climbing into the mountains. Anybody approaching can be seen from a distance.

The place was eerily quiet as we wandered through the huge gate overlooking the church and priest's buildings. In the centre of the bowl, a field of crops. Next to that, what looked like an electric generator.

A few minutes later, a monk, all in black, appeared from the church and asked if he could help. He politely asked us to leave and direct any enquiries about Mr Karadzic to the local bishop.

The Serbian Orthodox Church has always denied it is sheltering Radovan Karadzic.

Speculation has grown during the last two weeks that Mr Karadzic may be about to surrender, following a dramatic appeal by his wife on Bosnian television. She asked him to give himself up "for the sake of the family".

Accused of genocide by the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, and after nearly a decade on the run, the pressure may now have become too much to bear. International investigators are now focusing their search on this region of Montenegro.

One local media report even claims talks have already begun between Serbian and Montenegrin intelligence services and the CIA about the mechanics of a Karadzic surrender.


Back in Niksic we decided to confront the local police chief, Dusko Koprivica, and ask him why his men were taking such a keen interest in our movements, our followers visibly shaken when it became clear where we were going.

"It's normal for us to try to identify people who are not from here," Mr Koprivica told us from behind his desk in the unmarked building where his plain-clothes police are based.

Pouring us some grape brandy, he said we had nothing to worry about - they only wanted to know exactly who we were.

"Journalists have been sucking my blood for years about this issue. But I can tell you from all the intelligence I have, there is no evidence that Mr Karadzic is in this region. If he was, I would personally go and arrest him now."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

officially tying the slavic orthodox church to war crimes and genocide.