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NATO Peacekeepers Fail to Grab Karadzic - 2002-02-28

An operation by NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Bosnia aimed at capturing fugitive war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic has been unsuccessful. NATO says peacekeepers entered a village near Bosnia's border with Montenegro, after receiving intelligence the former Bosnian-Serb leader was hiding there.

A spokesman for the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia read a statement after the operation in the village of Celebici failed to achieve its goal of nabbing Mr. Karadzic.

Captain Darryl Morrell said, despite being unsuccessful, the operation shows SFOR's determination to track down the alleged war criminal. "Multinational SFOR forces conducted an operation to detain Radovan Karadzic near the town of Celebici in the Republika Srpska. Karadzic was not found at this location. However, this operation demonstrates SFOR's capabilities and resolve to act in apprehending, by force if necessary, persons indicted for war crimes," Captain Morrell said.

SFOR has been criticized for doing too little to capture fugitive war crimes suspects, especially Mr. Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic. Both have been indicted for genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Last week, the top international official in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, said some countries with troops in SFOR fear that any mission aimed at snatching Mr. Karadzic could wind up becoming a bloodbath.

Captain Morrell says such criticism is unfair and that SFOR has detained 23 people indicted by the war crimes tribunal since 1997.

The spokesman says intelligence received by the peacekeepers indicated Mr. Karadzic was hiding in a compound in Celebici. What they found instead of the former Bosnian-Serb leader was a sizeable quantity of weapons, including anti-tank rockets, grenades, mortar rounds, and anti-personnel mines.

Does NATO still believe Mr. Karadzic is hiding in the area?

"Well, again, our operation has now been completed, and we do not have him detained at this point. In terms of where, exactly, he is, we are not going to go into details of what we have in terms of intelligence," Captain Morrell said.

Celebici lies in the Bosnian-Serb entity that makes up Bosnia along with the Muslim-Croat Federation. Bosnian-Serb television reported that peacekeepers, backed up by helicopters and armored vehicles, entered homes and schools in the area and ordered residents to remain indoors.

The TV reports also said explosions and gunfire had been heard near the village and that electricity, water, and communications were cut off in the immediate area. Captain Morrell refused to discuss any further details of the operation.