Nato today welcomed the plea by the wife of fugitive Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic for her husband to surrender, saying such a move would benefit his family, Bosnia and the whole region.
“We will continue to aggressively pursue persons indicted for war crimes and we wholeheartedly endorse the statement by Ljiljana Karadzic for two compelling reasons,” said the commander of Nato troops in Bosnia, Brig Gen Steven Schook, in a statement.
“First, for her family’s sake and secondly for the sake of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Radovan’s actions to escape The Hague are a roadblock to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as the region,” he said, in reference to the UN War Crimes Tribunal.
Ljiljana Karadzic, who has always backed her husband during his flight from justice over the past 10 years, appealed in an exclusive interview with the Associated Press yesterday evening to her husband to surrender because the family cannot stand the strain any more.
“Our family is under constant pressure from all over. Our life and our existence is jeopardised,” she said in apparent reference to raids by NATO troops on her home and those of her son and daughter in recent months.
In early July, troops detained the couple’s son, Aleksandar, and questioned him for 10 days before releasing him. The family has always claimed it has had no contact with Karadzic and should be left alone.
Schook said today: “Nato is confident that Radovan got her message, and will not preclude the possibility the family, or at least certain members, may still know where Radovan is located.”
He said that Karadzic exposed his own family to “a great deal of stress” by remaining in hiding and that he alone is responsible for that.
“Ljiljana has not been mistreated and her strain is solely due to the circumstances in which Radovan Karadzic has placed her,” he said.
The Hague tribunal indicted the wartime Bosnian Serb leader in 1995 for genocide and other war crimes during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, including the 1995 massacre of as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.
He remains one of the tribunal’s most wanted fugitives, sought by Nato and EU peacekeepers. It is believed that his Bosnian Serb supporters have helped him elude capture despite a US-sponsored €4.1m reward for information leading to his arrest.
His wife struggled to hold back tears during the interview and said her decision had not been an easy one.
“I hope that you are alive and that you can make decisions by yourself, I’m begging you to make this decision,” she said. “I’m now doing the only thing I can – I’m begging you,” she added.
“Between loyalty to you and to the children and grandchildren, I had to choose and I have chosen. … It will be your sacrifice for us, for the sake of your family.”
She said she was hoping the message will reach her husband wherever he is.
In Serbia, Karadzic’s brother and long-time supporter, Luka Karadzic, said his sister-in-law’s appeal was the “result of tremendous pressure” on the family and that he personally “disagrees” with it.
“She loves Radovan more than God himself and yet has called on him to surrender,” Luka Karadzic told the Beta news agency in Belgrade. “But what if Radovan cannot hear her appeal, or is not in a position to make a decision on his own?”
UN war crimes prosecutors believe Karadzic is hiding in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia and that he often crosses over to neighbouring Serbia, using the mountainous border area – and the popularity he still enjoys among Serb nationalists.
Former US envoy Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the 1995 Bosnian peace agreement, said recently that Karadzic is being sheltered by the ruling Serb Democratic Party, SDS, as well as by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
“Elements of the SDS are in on this. I think the SDS is a criminal organisation sheltering him,” said Holbrooke, adding: “I’d guess he is in a monastery, having shaved his hair and having grown his beard.”
Former associates of the fugitive have said Karadzic has often slipped into Pale, the Bosnian Serb wartime capital, for night time visits to Ljiljana, daughter Sonja, and son Aleksandar-Sasa.
However, Mrs Karadzic told Serbian media recently that none of them had seen Karadzic since 1998 when he went into hiding and that Nato knows the family does not know where he is “because they follow us all the time. We have also found various listening and tracking devices on our cars”.
“It’s better that we don’t know because we would be the weakest link,” she claimed.