Magazine article The Spectator

Looking for Dr Karadzic

Magazine article The Spectator

Looking for Dr Karadzic

Article excerpt

Podgorica, Montenegro

I THOUGHT of it first back in 1998, lying in a log cabin, high in the grassy wastes of Zlatibor mountain in western Serbia. As the wind whistled plaintively and agitated the calendar featuring the Audi Quattro and the girl with an unfeasibly bulbous bosom, I had a tantalising glimpse of the future for correspondents in the region. Easy money, I thought.

From the same simple bed of pine slats where I reclined, the war-crimes suspect Stevan Todorovic had been snatched just two months earlier, a gun at his head, and dragged into the night, while that same incessant wind blew outside and the dogs yapped in vain on the farm down the hill. Poor Stevan was not even afforded one last look at his beloved calendar, nor allowed to don one of the psychedelic ties that hung beside it; he was bundled into a car and across the Drina river where he met his Nato reception committee, who then flew him up to The Hague on a one-way ticket.

It has since emerged that `Steva', as he is known in my family - more on that later - was snatched by bounty hunters who, according to American sources I know, were paid about $250,000 for the job. Bounty hunting in the Balkans was a somewhat secretive subject until, two weeks ago, Europe's most creative information minister, Yugoslavia's Goran Matic, announced that his army had captured four Dutchmen intent on driving Slobodan Milosevic out of Belgrade in a ski-box. Another version had it that Milosevic's head was to be presented on a platter to the G8 meeting in Okinawa. Since then the Yugoslav information ministry has declared open season on unsuspecting Westerners and now has two of our policemen under lock and key, this time charged with terrorism.

The US state department's offer of a $5 million reward for providing information leading to the arrest of either Milosevic or Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic was bound, of course, to result in farce. Turning the Balkans into a latter-day Wild West is almost certain to attract more crazed Dutch 'weekend warriors', but they should be warned. They will have competition.

Despite my profession's legendary skill at creative accountancy, $5 million is a large sum for a journalist, certainly more than a satellite-phone bill or anything that can be put down under extraordinary items on the monthly expenses. Every Balkan hack worth his salt has become a part-time bounty hunter over the last 'few years. Slowly but surely we started buying the gear: the Israeli-made night-vision devices, funny cameras you can wear on your buttonhole or in spectacle frames; a short-wave radio scanner became as much part of the journo's kit as the notebook. Some of these have already been rumbled by the locals, after CBS used the spectacle-cameras to film a Serb war criminal; and in the Kosovo conflict it was not unusual for myopic correspondents to have their glasses removed at checkpoints by gap-toothed peasants acting on orders from above.

Recently some friends were in Foca, the Klondike of bounty hunting in Eastern Republika Srpska, where they encountered a Russian UN worker. `We're journalists,' they insisted. `Ah, right, journalists,' he mused, with a nudge and a wink. `You're the hit squad, right?'

But with one eye on the story, and one on the $5 million, we persist. As I said, I saw all this coming as I lay on Stevan's bed in Zlatibor, and since Todorovic was the best man of one my wife's distant uncles, I have the cachet, unique among British journalists, of having a suspect close to the family. …

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