The so-called “Butcher of Bosnia,” who
evaded capture for more than a decade, will stand trial for two of the most
notorious events of the Bosnian war — the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica
massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, the worst
atrocity in Europe since World War II.
Karadzic, 63, was jailed in Belgrade after his
arrest last week while a Serbian war crimes court awaited a mailed appeal
challenging extradition. When no legal papers arrived by Tuesday, the Serbian
justice ministry issued a decree that allowed his handover to the Netherlands,
the Washington Post reported.
About 3:45 a.m. local time, Karadzic was escorted to
an airport by masked Serbian security officers, Serbian war crimes prosecutor
Vladimir Vukcevic told the New York Times. His plane touched down in Rotterdam
several hours later and he was flown by helicopter to the Scheveningen
penitentiary in The Hague, where the United Nations has a modern cellblock.
Karadzic will appear before The Hague tribunal
Thursday where he will be asked to enter a plea to each of the 11 charges he
faces, the court said.
To avoid commotion at the prison, Karadzic may kept
apart from the other inmates for a few days, a court official told the Times.
Before his arrival, the cellblock had held 37 men, among them former foes,
allies and even subordinates of the former Bosnian warlord.
“His arrest is a major achievement of Serbia’s
cooperation with the U.N. security council,” Prosecutor Serge Brammertz told
reporters at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
The trial was likely to begin in a few months, he
Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, a former ally of
Karadzic’s, was the only higher-ranking official to be brought before the
tribunal for crimes during the Balkan wars, but he died there of a heart attack
in 2006, months before a verdict was due in his trial.
Brammertz said he was confident Karadzic’s trial
would be efficient and successful, but noted two fugitives — Ratko Mladic, the
Bosnian Serb military commander, and Goran Hadzic, who is wanted for war crimes
in Croatia — are still on the run after the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
“The Serbian authorities’ arrest of Radovan
Karadzic and subsequent transfer constitute an important stage in the process
of reconciliation in the Western Balkans and Serbia’s rapprochement with the
European Union,” the EU’s French presidency said.
“The European Union calls on Serbia to continue
this work and to locate and transfer the remaining two indictees still at
large,” a statement said.
Karadzic’s extradition came hours after clashes in
Belgrade between Serbian riot police and youths after an ultra-nationalist
rally attended by an estimated 15,000 people opposed to his arrest. He remains
an iconic figure among Serbian hardliners.
At least 25 police and 19 civilians were injured in
the clashes, hospital officials said.
“Karadzic is a hero because he defended Serb
lives during the terrible wars of the 1990s,” said Elena Pavovski, 24, a
supporter of the Radical Party, whose members sang patriotic songs next to a
banner that threatened Serbia’s pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, the Times
reported. “Everyone knows that the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was
designed to try Serbs while the war criminals who killed Serbs are set free.”
An opinion poll published three years ago by
Strategic Marketing Research in Belgrade found that more than half of 1,200
respondents either did not know about war crimes in Bosnia, or did not believe
they had occurred. The failure to grapple with the past, analysts said, has
been exacerbated by the belief of some Serbs that The Hague tribunal is an
unjust entity meant to prosecute Serbs.
Karadzic’s lawyer in Belgrade has said his client
believes he will be cleared of genocide and will defend himself. Relatives have
said he is in good spirits. Two suits were delivered to him for his court
appearance: one light, one dark.
At The Hague, Karadzic will receive a medical
examination and meet legal officials — standard practice for new detainees —
and be assigned a cell identical to the one occupied by Milosevic.
Brammertz’s predecessor described the death of
Milosevic before a verdict as a “total defeat.”
Asked whether Karadzic’s trial would draw on the
lessons of the Milosevic trial, which lasted four years, Brammertz said:
“We are fully aware of the importance of efficiency.”
Karadzic vanished from public view in 1996, the year
after he was indicted. He faces counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes
against humanity committed during the Bosnian war in which 100,000 people died.
He faces life imprisonment if found guilty.
Karadzic spent years in hiding disguised as a
bearded alternative medicine guru named Dragan Dabic. Serbian media said dozens
of secret service agents tracked his movements for months before his detention.
A police search of Karadzic’s last hideout uncovered
military documents of his regime, Serbia’s Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said,
according to Agence France-Presse. The documents concerned meetings of his
military chiefs from the Republika Srpska, the self-declared state Karadzic
created during the war, state Tanjug news agency quoted Dacic as saying.
On Tuesday, a war crimes court in Bosnia convicted seven Bosnian Serbs of
genocide for their roles in mass killings in Srebrenica in 1995, a time when
Karadzic was their political leader, the Post reported.
A panel of judges in Sarajevo heard evidence that the former policemen rounded up 1,000 people who were machine-gunned or killed by grenades in a warehouse after their surrender. The court sentenced them to 38 to 42 years in prison. Four other men were found not guilty, the Associated Press reported.