British troops fail to seize Karadzic

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The Independent Online

A Bosnian priest and his son were in a critical condition yesterday after being injured in a failed attempt by British troops to arrest the world's most-wanted suspected war criminal.

A Bosnian priest and his son were in a critical condition yesterday after being injured in a failed attempt by British troops to arrest the world's most-wanted suspected war criminal.

A crowd of 3,000 people came on to the streets of Pale in Bosnia to protest against yesterday's armed raid, in which soldiers surrounded a church and a rectory in search of Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader. The operation was the latest in a series of efforts to capture Karadzic, who has been indicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal on charges of genocide, but who has succeeded in evading Nato peace-keepers for years.

The injuries sustained by the priest, Jeremija Starovlah, 52, and his son Alexander, 28, have inflamed opinion in Pale, a stronghold of support for Karadzic, in which Nato's peace-keepers are already unpopular. Both men, who were taken by helicopter to hospital, were found to have suffered multiple fractures and head wounds. The soldiers, backed by local police, sealed off the area and bursts of machine-gun fire and an explosion were heard. The two were injured by explosives used to open the doors of the building during the raid.

Jeremija Starovlah is a declared supporter of the former Bosnian Serb leader, and Pale is the home town of Karadzic's wife and daughter.

There was an angry reaction from senior figures in the community. Slavko Kujundzic, the head of the Pale municipality, said: "We all are deeply insulted, jeopardised and humiliated as a nation." Slobodan Lubarda, a priest who shares Mr Starovlah's rectory, added: "This is an act of vandalism which can only be seen in American movies."

Despite the casualties, Nato said it was determined to press on with its efforts to arrest Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, his former military commander, who has been indicted.

A British Nato official said: "There is a serious determination to keep after Karadzic. We have seen a number of efforts in recent weeks and the tempo has been stepped up."

At the end of the year, control of peace-keeping in Bosnia is to be handed to the EU. Nato is to retain a presence to keep up the drive to arrest those indicted and co-ordinate counter-terrorism.

Karadzic, with the help of a well-established network of supporters in the area, has proved highly elusive, criss-crossing the porous border between Bosnia's Serb republic, and Serbia and Montenegro. The fugitive former leader is thought to have stayed one step ahead of Nato by keeping constantly on the move through the region's rugged terrain. Mladic is thought to be in hiding in Serbia.

Karadzic and Mladic are accused of being "criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians". Among the atrocities blamed on the two men is the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslims in Srebrenica; the worst slaughter of civilians in Europe since the Second World War.

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