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Europe

Smoking Out the War Criminals in Europe's Backyard

After years of disinterest, the war on terror has forced the international community to go after one of the world's most wanted war criminals: former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

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Looking for a few, elusive war criminals

The War on Terror would be wide-reaching, the United States promised last Fall. Terrorists would be "smoked out" said US President George W. Bush in a global operation that "must be sweeping, sustained and effective".

As bombs rained down on Afghanistan and US military specialists hunted al Qaeda members in Somalia and the Philippines, some in the international community wondered if the world had forgotten about the most hunted war criminal and terrorist in Europe: Radovan Karazdic.

The former Bosnian Serb leader has been near the top of the International War Crime Tribunal’s most wanted list since 1995. He is charged with leading the slaughter of thousands of Bosnia Croats and Muslims during the war in the former Yugoslav republic between 1992 and 1995, including the deaths of 6,000 Muslims in the town of Srebrenica in July 1995.

But since the Dayton Accord brought an uneasy peace to Bosnia in 1995, Karadzic has been able to move about with little problem, often passing through checkpoints manned by members of the NATO Stabilization Force assigned to keep the peace.

That changed on Thursday.

Karadzic Suchposter auf Werbeplakat

An advertising poster with wanted posters of the Bosnian Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Gen.Ratko Mladic, are seen near the Bosnian Serb controlled village of Celebici, some 70 kilometers southeast of Sarajevo, Thursday Feb. 28

Heavily armed SFOR troops and two helicopters swooped into his hometown in southeastern Bosnia in an effort to snare the elusive former psychiatrist. The soldiers blocked streets and searched homes for signs of Karadzic– with no success. A second raid Friday morning produced similar results.

No one was injured in the operations, which used troops from Germany, the United States, Great Britain and France in a zone controlled by the French.

"This operation demonstrates SFOR's capabilities and resolve to act in apprehending, by force if necessary, persons indicted for war crimes," read a statement from SFOR headquarters in Sarajevo.

Dr. Karadzic's brother, Raco, told a radio station in Montenegro that his brother was "safe," as well as "well and in good health," the Serbian news agency Tanjug reported.

Hello again

There had been signs that after years of relative disinterest, SFOR was suddenly hot on catching Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who commanded Bosnian Serb forces during the war.

Wanted posters advertising million-dollar rewards had begun appearing again in Bosnian towns and the International War Crimes Tribunal chief prosecutor for the Balkans, Carla del Ponte, had started making more trips to Bosnia.

There have been reports that war crimes tribunal prosecutors are eager to get Karadzic or Mladic to testify against Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, currently on trial in he Hague.

The Bush administration is eager to get the two before the war crimes tribunal as well, but for other reasons. Washington, which is against the idea of an International Criminal Court, wants the war crimes tribunal to finish up its work by 2007-2008.

Bush wants to end war crimes tribunal

"We have the requisite patience and are committed to holding them to answer before the tribunal," said Pierre-Richard Prosper, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, of the two wanted war criminals. But Prosper said the Bush administration was "urging both tribunals to begin to aggressively focus on the endgame."

US and European officials had been hesitant to go after Mladic and Karadzic in the past, fearing violent and mass protests by the thousands of Serbs still loyal to them.

But there are signs that their popularity has begun to fade. There are new Bosnian Serb politicians now in power and Karadzic’s political party, the SDS, has begun to slip into the political margin.

NATO has promised that it will continue the hunt for both men, at a quickened pace.

"The message to Karadzic is: You got away this time but there will be another time unless you turn yourself in," Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO in Brussels, told reporters.

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