Road's end for genocide suspects

SUN JOURNAL

Bosnia: Tough economic times are increasing the likelihood that former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his top general will be captured soon.

September 07, 2001|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina - This small town, with its pocket-size Orthodox church and tatty cafes, is Karadzic country: a place where indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic has long been viewed as a native son, a savior, a saint.

But even here, where the Bosnian Serb leader lived at the height of his power during his country's brutal war, there is a weariness when people talk about Karadzic - as if they love him but are almost too tired to defend him.

That matters, because Pale is a place where people generally see the 1992-1995 war through an exclusively Serbian lens, one in which the Serbs are the biggest victims and not the perpetrators of "ethnic cleansing" against Bosnia's Muslims. But increasingly, even here, other factors dominate people's daily lives.

Hard economic times are casting a long shadow over people's views in Pale, long a Bosnian Serb stronghold. Also sapping the energy for defending Karadzic are political changes elsewhere in the former Yugoslav federation that make the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia less willing to be the sole holdout with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic, remain at large, but many observers say these changes in the mood and politics of the area increase the likelihood that the two could be arrested in a matter of months.

Karadzic and Mladic were indicted in July 1995 by The Hague tribunal in what has been called the worst war crime in Europe since World War II - a massacre in the town of Srebrenica, which like Pale is in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a place that has become synonymous with the brutality of the Bosnian war.

Karadzic and Mladic are charged with genocide, accused of ordering the slaughter of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica who were summarily executed and thrown into mass graves. And that is just one of the serious war crimes for which they stand accused.

Six years after their indictments, the men are believed to be hiding here in Republika Srpska, as the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia is known.

But these days, nowhere in the Balkans looks quite as poor as Republika Srpska. And that has made economic politics almost equal to the pervasive politics of ethnic hatred.

The economic status of Bosnia as a whole hovers near the bottom of the poor states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But the Bosnian Serb area is indisputably poorer and has had higher inflation than the rest of the Balkans, according to a 2000 report by the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment is estimated at 40 percent to 50 percent, and the gross domestic product in 1999 was slightly more than $4.4 billion, which is lower than everywhere else in the Balkans except Albania.

But Karadzic, it is widely believed, pulls strings in Republika Srpska through the political party that he led until 1996, when he went into hiding to escape arrest.

His party, the Serbian Democratic Party, remains the largest vote-getter here. Western officials in Bosnia say that only when Karadzic is gone will his party loosen its grip on nearly all aspects of the economy.

The bad economic times might contribute to people's willingness to come forward with tips about his whereabouts. It also might prompt the government's cooperation because Republika Srpska is strapped for foreign investment and Western aid.

Jacques Klein, the top United Nations official in Bosnia and a former deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Air Force, says for NATO troops to capture Karadzic and Mladic, they must have good intelligence. Someone in Karadzic's or Mladic's entourages might have to be persuaded - with cash or other blandishments - to reveal their movements to make the arrest possible.

The United States is offering up to a $5 million reward for information leading to the men's arrest.

Karadzic and Mladic are believed to be hiding in the rugged region that rises to the south and east of Pale. They almost certainly are not together, and in that terrain it won't be easy to find them or arrest them.

In the small towns along the region's dirt-track roads, the only signs of commerce are a few meager vegetable stands, storefront groceries with half-full shelves and ubiquitous cafes, where apparently unemployed men nurse a bottle of beer or a cup of black coffee for hours.

"There is no enthusiasm for defending Karadzic," says Igor Gajic, editor in chief of the Reporter, a Serbian weekly news magazine in Banja Luka, the administrative center of Republika Srpska. "The economy has made people very depressed.

"For ordinary people, it's not important to have a big salary, but to have any salary. They must choose between Karadzic and bread. What would you choose in that case, bread for your children or to defend Karadzic?"

Even in the political arena in Republika Srpska, the climate is changing. Earlier this month, the Bosnian Serb parliament gave preliminary approval to a law that opens the way for cooperation with The Hague tribunal.

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