Radovan Karadzic, the captured Bosnian Serb leader accused of the deaths of 20,000 people, was revealed to have spectacularly reinvented himself as a Belgrade healer as the pressure mounted on Serbia to hand over his suspected partner in masterminding the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War, Ratko Mladic.
Jubilant European leaders yesterday celebrated Karadzic's arrest by Serbian security forces, who snatched him from a bus, while it emerged that during more than a decade in hiding he had lived under an assumed identity practising alternative medicine at a private clinic under the noses of the international community whose armies were hunting him on genocide charges.
There were gasps of amazement at a news conference in Belgrade as Serbian officials produced extraordinary photographs of the gaunt-looking 63-year-old former Bosnian Serb leader sporting a flowing white beard and bushy moustache, long white hair and spectacles.
The former psychiatrist had been utterly transformed from the bulky official who defied the world as he swaggered round the Balkans with the Bosnian military commander, Mladic, in their joint ruthless quest to impose a "Greater Serbia", which left tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats dead, and sent waves of ethnic cleansing across the land. His employers and his landlord said they were completely taken in by the ingenious disguise, as was a magazine editor who commissioned articles on meditation and "peace of mind" from the "therapist" known as Dragan Dabic.
Serbia's new pro-European government, meanwhile, was basking in the limelight after securing the arrest of one of the world's most wanted fugitives, who had eluded justice for 13 years. Bosnians hooted their car horns in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital besieged for three years by Bosnian Serb forces, following the official Serb announcement of the capture just before midnight on Monday.
The Serb Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, made a surprise visit to Brussels where he met European foreign ministers who congratulated his government on their achievement, which was a key condition for Serbia to join the European Union.
However, they said in a statement that other conditions – which include the surrender to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague of Mladic and the Croatian Serb Goran Hadzic – must still be met. Karadzic has three days to appeal against his transfer to the UN tribunal. European officials attending a meeting on Monday night to prepare for yesterday's session "jumped in the air" when the news came through, said the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU presidency. But regarding Serbia's chances of an accelerated accession to the 27-member EU, he cautioned: "Let's not prejudge anything ... Karadzic has been arrested but Mladic has not."
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the top civilian administrator of Bosnia from 2002 to 2006, was involved in the manhunt in which Nato forces staged dozens of unsuccessful raids. He said: "Karadzic was accused of being the architect of the worst war crimes that have been perpetrated in Europe since the Nazis ... It is a major credit to Serbia and at last brings the prospect of justice for Bosnia."
Mladic is believed to have enjoyed the protection of Serb military intelligence until now and may be living in Belgrade.
Karadzic and Mladic were indicted in 1995 by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia after the massacre in Srebrenica of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys. David Rhode wrote in Endgame on the fall of the "safe haven" that for both men it was part of the Serb's centuries-old struggle against Islam and the Turks, and "an opportunity to avenge the Serbs killed" during the Second World War.
Hadzic is wanted in connection with the execution of 250 prisoners after the siege of Vukovar, in Croatia, in 1991. Their mentor, the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, died in custody in The Hague two years ago before his trial was completed.
Sources in Belgrade said it was no coincidence that Karadzic's arrest came days after the appointment of a new intelligence chief. Mr Jeremic, meanwhile, warned European ministers that Serbia had continued concerns over the West's support for Kosovo independence, which has been fiercely resisted by Belgrade with powerful Russian support.
There were also words of caution from the Bosnian President, Haris Silajdzic, whose country remains divided. "Hundreds of thousands of people around the world are Bosnians who were expelled from their homes under the threat of life, so for justice to be complete we must erase the consequences of this genocide," he said. "Milosevic's and Karadzic's project still lives on in Bosnia."
Call for 'appeasement' inquiry
There were calls for an independent inquiry into Britain's "appeasement" of the Bosnian Serbs yesterday. Denis MacShane, former Labour minister responsible for the Balkans, said the previous Tory Government headed by John Major, which opposed military intervention against Slobodan Milosevic's regime, could have prevented the loss of thousands of lives – including the 7,500 Muslims massacred at Srebrenica in 1995.
He said an inquiry by privy councillors should examine the role of Lord Hurd, the former foreign secretary, and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former senior Foreign Office official, now a member of the Shadow Cabinet.
Army chief who unleashed slaughter
Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military chief during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, remains at large. He was indicted by the UN in 1995 on charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity, including the slaughter of 7,500 Muslims in Srebrenica. Despite this, he lived freely in Belgrade until the arrest of his political mentor Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, after which he disappeared.
There have been reported sightings, and Nato operations to capture him without success. He was born in the Bosnian village of Kalinovik, in 1942, becoming a regular officer in the national army. In 1991 he was sent to fight Croatian forces in Knin. He was made head of the Bosnian Serb army and organised the siege of Sarajevo. He led the onslaught in 1995 which resulted in the massacre at Srebrenica. Mladic's wife, Bosa, son Darko and daughter Ana, live in Serbia. They deny they are in contact with him. In 2005, there were reports Mladic offered to surrender in return for a payment of £2.75m to his family.