Karadzic arrest `in days'

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THE question is no longer if but where, when and how Radovan Karadzic, former leader of the Bosnian Serbs but now a fugitive war criminal, hands himself over to face trial by an international tribunal which has indicted him on two counts of genocide.

Yesterday Western diplomats sounded more confident than ever that Mr Karadzic could give himself up to the United Nations court in The Hague within weeks, or even days. His exact whereabouts are a mystery. Accounts place him variously in Serbia, Belarus, Russia or still inside Bosnia.

But officials say he has been in contact with Biljana Plavsic and Milorad Dodik, the president and prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic set up by the 1995 Dayton accords which ended the Bosnian war, to explore the terms of a surrender. Chief of his conditions is understood to be a guarantee that in the event of being convicted and jailed, he would serve the sentence in an Orthodox Christian country.

The arrest of Mr Karadzic would be a big boost to the steadily growing authority of the court, which has already taken into custody 25 of the 74 people indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. It would also increase pressure on General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander who shares equal billing with Mr Karadzic on the UN wanted wanted list.

General Mladic is said to be living under military protection in Belgrade or Bosnia. But he will have observed the crumbling of protection for Mr Karadzic, as the more moderate Bosnian Serb leadership under Mrs Plavsic has consolidated its position. That vulnerability was underlined last week when a Nato force "by coincidence" rumbled into Mr Karadzic's erstwhile headquarters of Pale. Reading the omens, the former leader went into hiding. But Elisabeth Rehn, the UN envoy to Bosnia, predicts he will be in The Hague "quite soon".