Top genocide suspect evaded justice for 13 years

He was accused of masterminding massacres that the UN war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." Monday's capture of Radovan Karadzic, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and one of the world's most-wanted men, ended a 13-year manhunt for a genocide suspect said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities. Serbian President Boris Tadic's office said in a statement that Karadzic was arrested on Monday evening "in an action by the Serbian security services." It was a stunning announcement: Although authorities were said to be closing in on Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was also indicted in 1995 for genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia, Karadzic's whereabouts remained a mystery for years. Many had all but given up hope that he would ever be brought to justice. Karadzic's reported hide-outs included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his trademark silver mane and donning a brown cassock. With NATO-led peacekeepers under orders to arrest him on sight, associates said he sometimes traveled in ambulances with flashing lights to zip through NATO checkpoints undetected to spend time with his wife, Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic; daughter, Sonja; and son, Aleksandar Sasa, in Pale, the wartime Bosnian Serb capital. His wife surprised the public in July 2005 when she appealed to her husband to come out of hiding and surrender "for the sake of your family." Within a week, his son said publicly that he believed everyone responsible for war crimes must face justice, "even if it is my own father." Karadzic reportedly also visited his sick mother in the mountains of neighboring Montenegro, and in 2002 went to Budva on the republic's Adriatic coast. Those in his inner circle even claimed that a disguised Karadzic once sneaked into Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital his troops shelled relentlessly for three years, and had coffee with his friends in a downtown cafe. Karadzic hobnobbed with international negotiators and his interviews were top news items during the 3½-year Bosnian war, unleashed after Serbs there revolted against the republic's 1992 decision to secede from Yugoslavia. But that changed by the time the war ended in late 1995 with an estimated 250,000 dead and another 1.8 million people driven from their homes. A hunted man after being indicted twice by the UN tribunal for genocide, Karadzic's isolation and vulnerability grew as the years passed without any sign that the world was ready to forgive his alleged crimes against Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Born June 19, 1945, to a poor rural family in Montenegro, Karadzic trained as a psychiatrist and moved to Sarajevo with his wife and two children in the 1960s, where he also treated members of a city soccer club. He regularly played high-stakes poker with his Muslim and Croat neighbors - feeding a gambling passion later pursued in the casinos of Geneva. There, between shopping sprees for gold watches and designer suits, Karadzic spent months in futile, whisky-laden talks with international mediators trying to end Bosnia's war. That future seemed far off when the flamboyant Karadzic, a sometime poet and enthusiastic player of a single-string Serbian instrument known as the "gusle," entered politics in 1989 as head of the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party. As communism collapsed in Yugoslavia, rabid nationalism devoured the old Balkan federation, causing its bloody disintegration and a land grab by its two main ethnic groups, the Serbs and the Croats. Karadzic's party, with crucial help from his patron, the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, mobilized Serbs in Bosnia in 1992 against the republic's Muslims and Croats, who wanted to break away from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Soon, Serb forces were bombarding Sarajevo and expelling hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats from the 70 percent of Bosnia the Serbs seized. Guided by a vision of uniting Bosnian Serbs with neighboring Serbia, Karadzic turned bitter when Milosevic tried beginning in 1993 to coax him into a settlement. Before the 1995 Dayton accords that finally ended the war, Karadzic gave way only once - in May 1993 - agreeing to peace after intense negotiations in Greece. But he then crossed the Serbian leader. By 1994, Milosevic had - publicly, at least - severed all ties with and supplies to Karadzic's fiefdom. By 1995, Karadzic had lost the right to negotiate for the Serbs, in part because two indictments by the war crimes tribunal meant he could not travel. In July 1995, Karadzic was indicted for genocide, together with Mladic, his military commander. Both were charged with instigating systematic murder, torture, imprisonment and expulsion of non-Serbs. Atrocities in the indictment included shelling civilian targets, the deadly sniper campaign in Sarajevo, taking UN peacekeepers hostage and setting up brutal prison camps. In November 1995, Karadzic and Mladic again were indicted for genocide for the massacre of thousands of Muslim men after Bosnian Serb forces captured the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica. Karadzic was charged with authorizing the attack on Srebrenica, which came to be known as Europe's worst slaughter of civilians since World War II. The indictment described the Srebrenica massacres as "truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history." Karadzic was forced to step down as the Bosnian Serbs' leader in July 1996, replaced by his deputy, Biljana Plavsic. Before her own day in court at The Hague tribunal, she revealed details of the vast wealth accumulated by Karadzic and his allies by smuggling alcohol, fuel and cigarettes during and after the war. Undaunted, Karadzic wielded influence from the shadows and flaunted his determination to stay in charge of Bosnia's postwar Serb republic. But the emergence of a new, pro-Western Bosnian Serb government deprived him of much of his popularity. In 2003, Bosnia's top international official at the time, Paddy Ashdown, ordered the bank accounts and other assets of Karadzic's wife, son, daughter and brother frozen because of suspicion they were helping him evade capture. Even so, posters of Karadzic emblazoned with the words "Don't touch him!" popped up around the Balkans - plastered by supporters who still considered him a hero as a warning to the West not to try and take him. "Every Serb house shall be his hiding place and every true Serb his ally," a local poet, Dragoljub Scekic, once proclaimed. Despite the scattered support, Karadzic - wary of stepped-up talk that he must be arrested and brought to justice - remained a ghost. After September 1996, he was rarely seen in public.