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Karadzic Arrest Is First Step In Legal Process

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. We're learning more today about the capture of Radovan Karadzic and how he remained hidden for more than 10 years. The Bosnian Serb leader was one of the world's most wanted war criminals. After the war in Yugoslavia, he was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

SIEGEL: Karadzic was arrested last night. Now he sits in a Belgrade jail waiting to be extradited to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has the latest from Belgrade.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Rasim Ljajic, the Serb minister responsible for relations with the War Crimes Tribunal, today showed the world what Radovan Karadzic looks like after 10 years on the run.

In the photograph, the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs is much thinner, wears glasses, shoulder-length white hair, and sports a white beard. Gone is the leonine mop and the pompous self-assurance well-known to reporters who covered the Bosnian War. He looked more gnome than butcher of the Balkans.

Through an interpreter, Rasim Ljajic.

Mr. RASIM LJAJIC (Serb Minister): (Through translator) Karadzic used a false identity and false documents, used the name Dragan Dabic. We can tell you that he's been freely walking in the city, even people he rented his flat from didn't know his identity.

POGGIOLI: Karadzic's disguise was so effective he could practice alternative medicine at a private clinic in Belgrade and even wrote articles for the magazine Healthy Life under an assumed name. Ljajic was very vague in revealing details about the arrest, saying Karadzic's movements are being analyzed and will be kept secret until Racom Laditch(ph), the other major wanted war criminal, is also caught.

Mr. LJAJIC: (Through translator) There was preliminary questioning last night. He decided to remain silent and defend himself like that.

POGGIOLI: The Serbian judge has ordered Karadzic's extradition to The Hague. He has three days to appeal the ruling. It has long been suspected that the Bosnian Serb leader could remain a fugitive for so long only thanks to a strong support network of hard-line nationalists and help from the Serb Orthodox Church and protection from high Serbian authorities.

His arrest came just after a new government was installed that is keen to end Serbia's international isolation, and that depends on handing over the remaining war crimes suspects. Police have been put on high alert in Belgrade, fearing violent demonstrations, but there were only a few dozen hard-line nationalist protestors on the streets Monday evening. Today, one man, Haji Andre Milec(ph), expressed the outrage and anger of many Karadzic loyalists.

Mr. HAJI ANDRE MILEC: (Through translator) Nobody can take him to Hague. Without a civil war something like this couldn't happen.

POGGIOLI: Nearby, Karadzic's brother Luca(ph) was sitting in a car. He had just spent some time with the jailed Radovan, whom he described in a good mood and in good health. Luca said that like the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic will act as his own lawyer. Perhaps hinting at the future defense strategy, he said Radovan Karadzic may try to implicate Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. negotiator of the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian War in 1995.

Mr. LUCA KARADZIC (Brother): (Through translator) He understood that his deal with Holbrooke was not respected.

POGGIOLI: Luca Karadzic claimed the deal involved his brother stepping down as president of both the Bosnian Serb entity and the Serbian political party in exchange for immunity from The Hague tribunal.

His words echoed what Radovan Karadzic said in an interview with the BBC after the Dayton agreement was signed.

Mr. RADOVAN KARADZIC: Why they should arrest me? The Dayton Agreement says it legalized and legitimized our fight for freedom and for our own fate.

POGGIOLI: But in The Hague, Karadzic will face a very large number of serious charges: genocide, extermination, murder and ethnic cleansing. He's accused of ordering the 43-month-long siege of Sarajevo, during which Bosnian Serb troops starved, sniped and bombarded the city center and in which thousands of civilians lost their lives.

He's also charged with the massacre of Srebrenica, the worst war crimes in Europe after World War II, in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered.

The Hague tribunal has described Radovan Karadzic as the suspected mastermind of scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Belgrade. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.