Magazine article The Spectator

Catch Me If You Can

Magazine article The Spectator

Catch Me If You Can

Article excerpt

Will Osama and Saddam ever be found? If they fare as well as the Bosnian Serb mass murderers Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, perhaps not. In July the desperate duo celebrated eight years on the run from indictments by The Hague Tribunal, and the smart money has them at large a while longer. Mladic seems to have vanished, but the hunt for Karadzic goes on. It goes without saying that no one is quite sure where the bouffant-haired psychiatrist and cod poet is, but best guesses have him roving the remoter parts of Rcpublika Srpska (the Serbian bit of Bosnia) and Montenegro.

The hunt drags on under the aegis of Carla del Ponte, The Hague's Swiss-born chief prosecutor, and a junta of liberal lawyers and bureaucrats that makes a colander look watertight, backed by teams of clucking politicians. Karadzic, however, is protected by a network of ultra-nationalist peasants, gangsters and Orthodox clergy, which acts like a black hole for information: 'Everything comes in, and nothing comes out,' says one veteran Balkan watcher. The Hague regularly re-states its great and redoubled determination to catch Karadzic, which would be amusing if the whole process weren't so thoroughly drenched in blood.

Karadzic was the prime architect of the Srebrenica massacre, in which as many as 6,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed under the noses of French generals and Dutch soldiers. The Hague was meant to provide justice for the victims. To its credit it has Slobho in the dock, and earlier this month the suspected war criminal Major Veselin Sljivancanin ended several years on the run after he was arrested by Serbian interior ministry commandos. But as for getting its own scalps, The Hague is next to useless.

In the Through-the-Looking-Glass world of Karadzic-hunting, failure is no longer a bar to success. Last week Nato's Stabilisation Force (SFOR) troops besieged the properties of Karadzic's wife and daughter, as well as several other promising spots in the Bosnian Serb capital, Pale, in the hope of finding him. After two days they gave up and went home, but an SFOR spokesman revealed that they had collected 'unspecified information' and, 'while I cannot divulge details of the results of these operations, I can tell you that they were successful in their aim . . . to gather information and monitor the local situation and potential efforts of persons conducting activities that impede the progress and development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. War crimes fugitives fall in that category.' This sort of flannel is not well received by the local Bosnian Muslims, who can't decide if these pantomimes are simply a case of incompetence or, more gravely, a lack of will. A piece in the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje dryly observed that it was 'another farce . . . the operation is reminiscent of top US-produced action films . . . but Bosnia is not America. The bad guys are still in good shape here and engaged in anti-Dayton activities.' Which is hard to argue with.

Consider another failed raid launched by SFOR troops in Bosnia in March last year. A French captain had thoughtfully telephoned a Bosnian Serb policeman to let him know Karadzic was in danger, unaware that his conversation was being listened to by spooks from other SFOR countries. According to transcripts published in the Times, the officer told the policeman, 'You should pay attention to Foca [where Karadzic was believed to be hiding]', while the arrest force was en route in helicopters, thus allowing him to escape. …

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