Balkans: Nato seizes TV transmitters run by Karadzic allies

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The Independent Online
The peace-keeping force in Bosnia yesterday made its toughest strike yet against Radovan Karadzic and his acolytes. They seized four television transmitters under Serb control, closing their virulently anti- Western broadcasting service. Andrew Gumbel reports.

Hundreds of troops belonging to the Nato-led Stabilisation Force, or S-For, swooped on the transmitters in the dead of night and ringed them with armoured vehicles. The operation all but muzzled the media power of Mr Karadzic, who is wanted on international war crimes charges.

It also handed a major propaganda victory to Mr Krajisnik's rival, the Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, who since July has headed a revolt against the leadership in Pale from her stronghold in Banja Luka in northwestern Bosnia. According to Nato sources, she was immediately offered control of the four transmitters - which included one on Mount Trebevic just above Pale itself - but was still deliberating yesterday whether she wanted to take up the offer.

The political struggle between the two rival factions has largely been fought over television. Until yesterday, Mrs Plavsic controlled the airwaves over around 40 per cent of Bosnian Serb territory, winning praise from the international community for allowing an unintrusive editorial style on news items.

Two of the transmitters seized yesterday, near Doboj and Bijeljina, were the subject of a bitter struggle for much of the last week of August. At that time, S-For first seized them on behalf of Mrs Plavsic, then gave them back to Mr Krajisnik as part of a deal to encourage the Pale Serbs to withdraw their threat to boycott last month's municipal elections.

Yesterday's action provides vital clues to Western government thinking on Bosnia. Ostensibly, the transmitters were seized because of "highly provocative" tampering of a broadcast made by the United Nations war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour and aired over the weekend.

But the action was also a response to mounting accusations of softness by the international community in Bosnia. The pre-election deal with Mr Krajisnik was widely criticised as a sell-out, and several aspects of the handling of the municipal elections themselves have been decried as suspect by both official figures and independent observers. Nearly three weeks after voting, results still have not been published.

Diplomatic sources explain that the elections were an obstacle to excessively robust action against Mr Karadzic and his friends. Now that they are over, there are growing rumours of Mr Karadzic's imminent arrest by S-For troops - the thinking being that he should be out of the way before the November elections and before cold weather makes it more difficult for S-For troops to swoop on his mountain chalet in Pale.