U.S. won't pursue war crimes suspects Arrest of accused Serbs might rekindle war fever


WASHINGTON -- After spending more than two years and tens of millions of dollars preparing missions, training commandos and gathering intelligence, the United States has dropped its secret plans to arrest Bosnia's two most wanted men accused of war crimes, senior administration officials say.

Plans for clandestine missions to seize the men -- Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, the wartime political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs -- have been scuttled by U.S. commanders who fear a blood bath, by French officers who are reluctant to act and by U.S. government officials who share a growing sense that the mission could rekindle Serbian aggression, present and former U.S. officials say.

Karadzic, a psychiatrist, and Mladic were indicted three years ago today by an international criminal tribunal on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The United Nations court charged them with killing, persecuting, shelling and deporting civilians throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina; launching sniper attacks against civilians in Sarajevo; and taking U.N. peacekeepers hostage and using them as human shields.

The court said all members of the United Nations had a legal obligation to try to arrest the men.

The National Security Agency spent millions of dollars tracking the men. FBI agents and U.S. marshals went to Bosnia, where they scouted the men's homes and hide-outs.

But it came to nothing, in part because senior officers found the plans too perilous.

Even if U.S. soldiers went in with overwhelming force, the commanders contended, the risks outweighed the potential rewards.

The risks, one senior administration official said, were that several hundred Serbs would die in an assault by U.S. and NATO troops. Those deaths would galvanize the most violent elements among the Serbs. And that, he said, could reignite war fever in the Balkans.

Senior U.S. diplomats argued, to no avail, that no lasting peace is possible in Bosnia until Karadzic and Mladic are brought to justice.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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