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Top war crimes suspect caught

BELGRADE, Serbia — Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, the suspected architect of massacres and the politician considered most responsible for the deadly siege of Sarajevo, was arrested Monday evening in a Serbian police raid, ending his 13 years as the world's most-wanted war crimes fugitive.

His alleged partner in the persecution and "cleansing" of tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, remained at large.

A psychiatrist turned diehard Serbian nationalist politician, Karadzic, 63, is the suspected mastermind of mass killings that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." They include the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Europe's worst slaughter since World War II.

"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade," said Serge Brammertz, the tribunal's head prosecutor.

A Serbian police source, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media, said Karadzic (pronounced KAH-rah-titch) was arrested in a Belgrade suburb after weeks of surveillance of his safe house and a tip from a foreign intelligence service.

Authorities said Karadzic was detained Monday evening in a raid, but his attorney, Sveta Vujacic, said it occurred Friday on a bus.

Serbian President Boris Tadic's office said Karadzic has been taken before the investigative judge of Serbia's war crimes court, a legal procedure that indicates he could soon be extradited to the U.N. court at The Hague, Netherlands. Investigative judge Milan Dilparic said early today that Karadzic was "being questioned."

However, it was unclear whether Belgrade planned to extradite him to The Hague for trial by the U.N. tribunal, or attempt to try him in Serbia. Many Serbs consider the tribunal to be biased against them.

If Karadzic is transferred, he would be the 44th Serb suspect extradited to the tribunal. They include former President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000 and died in 2006 while on trial on war crimes charges.

Serbia braced for a possible reaction from ultra-nationalists who are believed to have helped shelter Karadzic and Mladic over the years. Heavily armed special forces were deployed around the war-crimes court in Belgrade.

The White House called the arrest "an important demonstration of the Serbian government's determination to honor its commitment to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal."

The European Union said the arrest "illustrates the commitment of the new Belgrade government to contributing to peace and stability in the Balkans region."

In the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo — a focus of Bosnian Serb attacks during the war — streets were jammed as Bosnian Muslims celebrated the arrest.

Srebrenica was one of the final chapters of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, which had broken out when ethnic Serbs revolted against a government dominated by Muslims and Croats that declared the republic of Bosnia independent from the disintegrating Serb-dominated Yugoslav foundation. Slovenia and Croatia already had broken away, the latter in another bloody ethnic conflict.

Serbia has been under increasing international pressure to find Karadzic and turn him over.

"He was at large because the Yugoslav army was protecting him. But this guy in my view was worse than Milosevic," Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador who negotiated an end to the Bosnian war, told CNN. "He was the intellectual leader."

The charges against Karadzic include genocide, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts, and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia during the 1992-1995 war.

His wife, Ljiljana, told the Associated Press by phone from her home in Karadzic's former stronghold, Pale, near Sarajevo that her daughter, Sonja, had called her before midnight.

"I'm shocked. Confused. At least now we know he is alive," Ljiljana Karadzic said.

Top war crimes suspect caught 07/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 3:06pm]
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