'Most wanted' man that no one wants to arrest

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Radovan Karadzic, psychiatrist, fiddler, extreme nationalist and indicted war criminal, once wrote a poem in which he imagined burning down Sarajevo. Having succeeded only partly in that objective during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, the self-styled president of the Bosnian Serbs turned his attention last weekend to the more pressing task of saving his skin from the men who want him to stand trial in The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity.

For the moment, he has done the trick. Despite being one of the world's most wanted men, and despite the presence of 60,000 Nato troops in Bosnia, it seems nobody wants to clap a hand on the Karadzic shoulder and say: "You're nicked."

He even managed, in the early hours of Saturday, to convene a session of the Bosnian Serb assembly at which 55 out of 56 delegates dutifully endorsed his choice of a hardliner as his new prime minister. It was an act of supreme defiance towards Carl Bildt, the international mediator who has made it his life's mission to capture Mr Karadzic and bring him to trial.

Mr Bildt took heart from Mr Karadzic's announcement that he was delegating some of his powers to one of his deputies, Biljana Plavsic. But the truth is that the unkempt doctor from Montenegro has by no means thrown in the towel.

It was easy to imagine Mr Karadzic last night holding court in Pale, surrounded by a troop of murderous yet obsequious gangsters, sipping his firewater and chuckling at the West's inability to trap the fox.

The more abstemious Mr Bildt must now plot new tactics to snare his sworn enemy. One likely course will be to redouble his pleas to Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, to extradite the greatest ethnic cleanser of them all to Belgrade and thence to The Hague.

But Mr Milosevic, who once told Mr Karadzic "not to throw away your winnings like a drunken poker player", spoons out co-operation to the West in measured doses. Decoded, his answer to those urging him to arrange Mr Karadzic's arrest is: "Perhaps now, perhaps later, perhaps never."

Meanwhile Nato is fully aware of Mr Karadzic's whereabouts, but unable or disinclined to arrest him. Perhaps, as Mr Bildt insists, the net is closing. But the lesson from last weekend's events is Mr Karadzic, a famous gambler, is still in his casino, betting as ever on his personal and political survival.