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US Scolds Bosnian Serb Republic for Failure to Apprehend War Crimes Suspects - 2004-04-01

The United States scolded the Bosnian Serb Republic Thursday for failing to live up to obligations to help apprehend indicted Balkans war crimes suspects. The comments followed a failed raid by NATO forces seeking to capture fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic that wounded two civilians.

The overnight raid by troops of the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia - S-FOR - was the third of its kind in recent months aimed at capturing Radovan Karadzic, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from his tenure as Bosnian Serb president in the early 1990s.

The S-FOR troops, acting on a tip, used explosives to enter the home of a Serbian Orthodox priest in the former Bosnian Serb wartime capital of Pale, where Mr. Karadzic was believed to be hiding.

The priest and his son were critically injured in the failed raid, which touched off an angry protest by about two thousand people in the ethnic Serb stronghold.

At a news briefing in Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States regrets the casualties but that the blame should go to the Bosnian Serb authorities and the fugitive former official.

"We certainly regret the injury of civilians, but would note that our NATO allies in S-FOR were put in a position of having to use force to try to apprehend Karadzic because Karadzic himself has not surrendered to the tribunal," he said. "And the Republika Serbska has failed to take any concrete steps to fulfill its Dayton and U.N. obligations to bring him and other fugitive persons indicted for war crimes to justice."

Mr. Ereli said the U.S. government is determined to see that Mr. Karadzic and other fugitive war crimes indictees are brought to justice, and will work with international partners to assure that this happens.

The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague indicted Mr. Karadzic in 1995 on 16 criminal counts for imprisoning Bosnian Muslims and Croats in concentration camps, and for the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys following the Serb capture of the enclave of Srebrenica.

NATO has been under growing pressure to arrest Mr. Karadzic and other fugitives before its withdrawal from Bosnia, which is planned for the end of this year.

The S-FOR raid in Pale came less than a day after the Bush administration announced Wednesday it is suspending U.S. aid to Serbia and Montenegro after determining that Belgrade authorities are not fully cooperating with The Hague tribunal. About $26 million in U.S. assistance is affected.

The State Department said former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic and 15 other indicted war crimes suspects spend most of their time in Serbia and that Mr. Mladic - another key figure in the Srebrenica killings - has been in a position to be captured on more than one occasion.