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THE FACE OF EVIL
Standing with Slobodan Milosevic 13 years ago on the veranda of a government hunting lodge outside Belgrade, I saw two men in the distance. They left their twin Mercedes and, in fading light, started toward us. I felt a jolt go through my body; they were unmistakable. Ratko Mladic, in combat fatigues, stocky, walking as though through a muddy field; and Radovan Karadzic, taller, wearing a suit, with his wild, but carefully coiffed, shock of white hair.
The capture of Karadzic and his arrival at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague took me back to a long night of confrontation, drama, and negotiations — the only time I ever met him. It was 5 pm on September 13, 1995, during the height of the war in Bosnia. After years of weak Western and United Nations response to Serb aggression and ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, United States-led NATO bombing had put the Serbs on the defensive. Our small diplomatic negotiating team was trying to end a war that had taken the lives of nearly 300,000 people.
Milosevic, Mladic, and Karadzic were the primary reason for that war. Mladic and Karadzic had already been indicted as war criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. (Milosevic was not to be indicted until 1999.)
In a change of strategy, the negotiating team had decided to marginalise Karadzic and Mladic and to force Milosevic, as the senior Serb in the region, to take responsibility for the war and for the negotiations that we hoped would end it. Now Milosevic wanted to bring the two men back into the discussions, probably to take some of the pressure off of himself.
We had anticipated this moment and agreed in advance that, while we would never ask to meet with Karadzic and Mladic, if Milosevic offered such a meeting, we would accept — but only once, and only under strict guidelines that would require Milosevic to be responsible for their behaviour.
I told each member of our negotiating team to decide for himself or herself whether to shake hands with the mass murderers. I hated these men for what they had done. Their crimes included, indirectly, the deaths of three of our colleagues — Bob Frasure, Joe Kruzel, and Nelson Drew, who had died when the armoured personnel carrier they were in plunged down a ravine as we attempted to reach Sarajevo by the only route available, a dangerous dirt road that went through sniper-filled, Serbian-controlled territory.
I reminded Milosevic that he had promised that such harangues would not occur. Karadzic responded emotionally that he would call former President Jimmy Carter, with whom he said he was in touch, and started to leave. For the only time that long night, I addressed Karadzic directly, telling him that we worked only for President Bill Clinton and that he could call Carter if he wished but that we would leave and that the bombing would intensify. Milosevic said something to Karadzic in Serbian; he sat down again, and the meeting got down to business.
After ten hours, we reached an agreement that would end the siege, after more than three years of war. The next day, we were able to fly into the reopened airfield in Sarajevo. That indomitable city was already beginning to come back to life. Two months later, the war would end at Dayton, never to resume.
But while the Dayton agreement gave NATO the authority to capture Karadzic and Mladic, an arrest didn’t occur for nearly 13 years. During that period, Karadzic spread a completely false rumour that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and I had made a deal that, with Karadzic’s disappearance from public view, NATO would not seek his arrest. Of course, this another ridiculous fabrication from the same man who famously said that the Bosnian Muslims had shelled their own villages in order to lure NATO into the war. Finally, one of these dreadful murderers is in The Hague. It is imperative that Mladic follow Karadzic on this one-way journey.
Karadzic’s capture is all the more important because Serbian authorities accomplished it. Serbian President Boris Tadic deserves great credit for this action, especially since his good friend Zoran Djindjic, then prime minister of Serbia, was assassinated in 2003 as a direct result of his courage in arresting Milosevic and sending him to The Hague in 2001. Karadzic’s arrest is no mere historical footnote; it removes from the scene a man who was still undermining peace and progress in the Balkans and whose enthusiastic advocacy of ethnic cleansing merits emphatic repudiation. It also moves Serbia closer to European Union membership.
Moreover, Karadzic’s arrest is another reminder of the value of war crimes tribunals. Even though almost 13 years is an inexcusably long time, the war crimes indictment kept Karadzic on the run and prevented him from resurfacing. In far-away Khartoum, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, now indicted by the International Criminal Court, should be paying close attention. —DT-PS
Richard Holbrooke, former US ambassador to the UN and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, was the chief architect of the Dayton Peace Agreement. He writes a monthly column for The Washington Post