WORLD

The drive to oust Karadzic

The Bosnian Serb leader gives up his title—but little else

BRUCE WALLACE July 15 1996
WORLD

The drive to oust Karadzic

The Bosnian Serb leader gives up his title—but little else

BRUCE WALLACE July 15 1996

The drive to oust Karadzic

WORLD

BOSNIA

The Bosnian Serb leader gives up his title—but little else

Perhaps it is his training as a psychiatrist, but Radovan Karadzic has an uncanny ability to mess with the minds of his foes. The international officials struggling to implement the Dayton peace agreement desperately want the bouffant-haired Karadzic out as president of the Bosnian Serb republic, the mini-statelet he and his followers carved out of Bosnia during a 3 1/2-year war of ethnic cleansing. They would also like to drag him off to The Hague, and the empty defendant’s chair awaiting him in the courtroom where a tribunal has heard nightmarish allegations of war crimes against him. But Karadzic, 51, shows no signs of leaving the safety of the praetorian guard that protects him in Pale, the ski village outside Sarajevo that has become his political bunker. And the demand that he leave office and never run again was met for months with his patented blend of teasing, taunts and obfuscation.

Late last month, after foreign governments shook the prospect of economic sanctions in his face,

Karadzic relented. He would hand over his powers as president—but keep the title. The international community, which has shown a chronic inability to deal cohesively with Bosnian Serb leaders, agreed at first, then decided the offer was not good enough. “He’s diddling us around as he has for the last five years,” said one Western diplomat. So more pressure was brought, and Karadzic finally agreed to surrender the title, too. Nor, he solemnly pledged, would he run in national elections scheduled for Sept. 14. Only one caveat: he would hang on to his job as head of the hardline Serb Democratic Party, which allows him to choose the candidates who do run.

It is a cute move but not likely to meet the Dayton agreement’s requirement that indicted war criminals stay out of politics. “We never believed that he was going to stand as a candidate anyway,” said Mike Maclay, spokesman for Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister overseeing attempts under the accord to turn Bosnia into a postwar state. “We want him out of political life and into The Hague. This is just a first step.” Yet it was a baby step at best, and a long way from an appearance in The Hague. There, prosecutors have a list of charges against Karadzic and his top military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic,

that is a rollcall of evil: genocide, religious persecution and atrocities against civilians, including torture, rape and shelling, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

The obstacle to prosecution remains the mighty NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR), which is bluntly unwilling to pursue and arrest the well-guarded Karadzic. It fears that such a mission could end in bloody failure, or that apprehending Karadzic and the still-wildly popular Mladic could spark a violent backlash against IFOR troops by Bosnian Serbs. “Arresting Mladic would be disastrous for the IFOR mission,” said a Belgrade-based Western diplomat. That line doesn’t wash with the war crimes tribunal. Chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone of South Africa has complained that IFOR’s position constitutes a morally unjustified grant of immunity. And the tribunal’s president, Italian Judge Antonio Cassese, recently protested to the UN Security Council that Mladic had visited Belgrade in May for a funeral and left again, unhindered by authorities.

Last week, The Hague’s prosecutors continued their campaign to embarrass IFOR into sending out a posse to bring in

Karadzic and Mladic. Over six days, the court heard tapes of Karadzic himself warning the Bosnian government that its plans to break away from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would lead “into hell . . . and lead the Muslim people into annihilation.” Judges heard stomach-churning testimony of torture and executions during the Bosnian Serb army’s overrun of the UN-protected Muslim town of Srebrenica last summer, which placed Mladic at the scene. And Canadian Capt. Patrick Rechner coolly described his capture by Bosnian Serb forces, who threatened to kill him while he was chained to an ammunition dump as a human shield against NATO air strikes in May, 1995. The testimony from Vancouver-born Rechner clearly connected key Karadzic aides to his three-week ordeal.

But much as Western leaders want to see Karadzic and Mladic in the dock, few have any illusions that their removal from Bosnia would have much impact on prospects for lasting peace. “The real problem is the Stalinist style of the Bosnian Serb state and its climate of fear,” said one European official in Sarajevo last week. “Karadzic should go, but that won’t solve the problems here.”

Elections held last week in Mostar, a city divided between Muslims and Croats, underscored how deep-rooted ethnic mistrust has become: hardliners from both sides were elected; moderate parties got just three per cent of the vote. “The same groups who brought us the war were elected again,” said one Western diplomat. ‘You can have the freest vote on earth, but I don’t see how these people will change their views. They will vote for those who can deliver security.” Indeed, opinion is divided on what would happen if Karadzic were arrested. Many observers believe that a demonstration of international toughness against the warmongers would encourage more moderate politicians. Others warn that his arrest would only feed the Bosnian Serb sense of isolation and paranoia. But since nobody knows exactly what would happen, offered Maclay from his Sarajevo office, “perhaps it would be best just to do what’s right.”

BRUCE WALLACE in London