It began like a thriller, but ended like a farce. Radovan Karadzic was a wanted man for 13 years. Thousands of Nato troops were hunting him, dozens of times his family home and those of his children were raided. They came up with nothing, to the fury of Carla del Ponte and the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
It finished on a municipal bus, a No 83, in a Belgrade suburb. On Monday night, police in plain clothes approached the tall, cranky-looking man in black with the topknot and full white beard, showed their badges, enclosed his head in a hat to prevent him identifying them, and marched him off. "It was all completely illegal!" his lawyer Svetozar Vujacic told reporters in front of the Special Court of Belgrade yesterday. "His head was covered with a hat, so he could not see the faces of those who arrested him, and he was taken away. He does not know where he spent the weekend and neither do I."
Karadzic and his lawyer have been informed that the former Bosnian Serb leader is soon to be extradited to The Hague to face the trial that has awaited him for so many years. They have three days to appeal the decision.
The first details of the amazing double life that enabled one of the most recognisable figures in the Balkans to pass for months – perhaps years – in the Serbian capital without apparently arousing the slightest suspicion were revealed at a brief press conference yesterday by the Serbian special war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic and the top official for co-operation with the war crimes tribunal, Rasim Ljajic. They gave glimpses of his life in the suburb of New Belgrade that amazed the Serbian public.
"Radovan Karadzic was using a false identity and carrying false documents in the name of Dragan Dabic," Ljajic said. "His efforts to conceal his true identity were very convincing. He was working in a private clinic in New Belgrade as a practitioner of alternative medicine. That's how he was earning his living."
So good was Karadzic's disguise, Vukcevic said, that "he was moving freely in Belgrade. His false identity was so convincing that no one was able to identify him, not even his landlord or employee." And so confident was he that he gave lectures on "healthy living" at an upmarket resort on the island of Ada Ciganlija in the Sava river. In his avatar, Karadzic resembled a sadhu on the banks of the Ganges – except for his oversize tinted spectacles.
Goran Kojic, the editor of a magazine called Healthy Life, said that "Dragan David Dabic" had contributed a series of articles on psychology and bio-energy. "I met him in September at a lecture about spirituality," he said. "A friend introduced us and he seemed a very nice man who knew about spirituality. With his long beard and long hair, he doesn't resemble Karadzic at all. I would never have guessed." Kojic persuaded him to write the pieces for the magazine, though "he wrote without a fee".
"He had a weird ponytail made out of completely white long hair, on the top of his head. He always wore black. When I asked him about his appearance, he said he just 'felt that way'. It never occurred to me that it could be Karadzic. He was completely unrecognisable. We never discussed politics at all," Kojic said.
The articles by "David Dabic" in recent issues of Healthy Life deal with meditation, described as an atheistic version of the old Orthodox tradition of "re-examining one's actions". To many in Serbia, particularly those who followed the career of the former Sarajevo psychiatrist, this is no surprise. At the start of the Bosnian war in 1992, Karadzic made great play of returning to the Serbian Orthodox religion, praising its "spirituality" in contrast to atheistic Communism. Often, he presented the conflict of the Serbs with Bosnian Muslims as a crusade, a just war between Christianity and Islam.
At the press conference, the two officials showed a photograph of Karadzic in his new incarnation, apparently addressing an audience. He bears not the slightest resemblance to the clean-shaven man with the imperious grey quiff who strutted his wartime stuff in his toy capital of Pale, 16km from Sarajevo.
Officials declined to say how long Karadzic had been living in Belgrade, how long he had worked at the unnamed clinic, or when and where the photographs were taken. "We're still reconstructing the whereabouts and movements of Karadzic," Ljajic said. "We have two more war crimes suspects to arrest." (The two still at large are the Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic and a Croatian Serb, Goran Hadzic.)
The investigators say that they stumbled upon Karadzic through tracing the network of supporters of Mladic. Yet analysts agree that the real reason for this week's events is the changed political climate in Serbia. A new, pro-European Union government took power in Belgrade earlier this month. One of its first moves was to replace the head of the Security Agency (BIA), Rade Bulatovic, a loyalist to the conservative former prime minister Vojislav Kostunica. Although Kostunica once referred to Karadzic as "a stone around Serbia's neck," he was strongly opposed to the extradition of those indicted for war crimes. Bulatovic's replacement, Sasa Vukadinovic, was appointed only last Thursday.
"The new head, Sasa Vukadinovic, only had to run through the data already collected and act upon it," said the human-rights advocate Natasa Kandic. "This proves that Serbia lacked the political will to act, until now."
Karadzic and Mladic are accused of genocide and masterminding the massacre of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces overran the enclave, which was supposedly under United Nations protection. They are also indicted for the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995, which claimed more than 10,000 lives.
The man who was the founder and head of state of the minuscule Republika Srpska, the ethnic Bosnian Serb state within Bosnia that was given international recognition in the Dayton Accords that ended the Bosnian war in 1996, had been on the run ever since that agreement was signed. He was wanted for war crimes, and there was an international warrant for his arrest. Yet, despite the fact that his former patron Slobodan Milosevic, then president of what was still calling itself Yugoslavia, had dropped him when it became clear that the Americans would refuse to deal with him, Karadzic was one of the war's winners; Republika Srpska existed and was recognised. And he himself had gone on the lam.
Richard Holbrooke, the US diplomat who was the architect of the Dayton Accords, recognised how vital it was to arrest Karadzic and Mladic, the bloodthirsty general who had carried out Karadzic's orders. "While the arrest of Karadzic would not have solved all the problems the international community faced in Bosnia," he wrote in his book To End a War, "... Karadzic at large was certain to mean Dayton deferred or defeated."
In a letter to the then US President, Bill Clinton, he wrote: "It may seem odd that so much can hang on such a matter as the fate of two odious war criminals. But history is replete with examples of small issues leading to the unravelling of larger ones..."
The man who precipitated the worst conflict in Europe since the Second World War was born in a stable in the remote mountain village of Savnik in Montenegro in 1945, an area where heavy snow prevents the villagers from leaving their homes for more than six months of the year.
Powerful nationalist influences were around him from birth: his father Vuk was a Chetnik, a member of the ultra-nationalist Serb group that fought Tito's Communist partisans in the Second World War, who spent years in prison during Radovan's childhood. Karadzic's mother, Jovanka, who died of cancer in 2005, said Radovan helped her at home and in the fields and gave schoolfriends a hand with homework.
He moved to Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in 1960, aged 15, to attend a secondary medical school. He later graduated in medicine and specialised in psychiatry, focusing on the treatment of depression. He met Ljiljana Zelen, a fellow doctor in Sarajevo, and married her. The couple have two children, a daughter, Sonja, and a son, Sasa.
But Sarajevo was never his favourite town, despite half a lifetime spent there. While working in the Sarajevo hospital of Kosevo – the same hospital that became choked with maimed people during the war as Karadzic's forces shelled the city – Karadzic turned to writing poetry, mostly dealing with love, reminiscences of life and its essence. His work was dismissed as minor by Sarajevo's intellectual elite, but it led to meetings with prominent Serbian writers. At one of those meetings he met Dobrica Cosic, one of the best-known Serbian nationalist writers, now an octogenarian still living in Belgrade, who cajoled the Sarajevo psychiatrist into politics.
In 1990, Karadzic created the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) as a response to the Bosnian Muslim and Croat parties that backed Bosnia's drive for independence. And when Bosnia declared independence in 1992, Karadzic countered by declaring the independence of the Serb-populated areas within it, creating what he termed the Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was later renamed Republika Srpska.
The stage was set for war, generously backed by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. Their idea was to create a Greater Serbia, welded together from Serbia proper and the neighbouring areas of Bosnia that were populated by ethnic Serbs. To bring this about, Karadzic energetically applied the principle of ethnic cleansing, forcing Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims – from their homes in Serb majority areas in huge numbers. More than 250,000 Muslims were evicted from eastern parts of Bosnia, bordering Serbia.
Prisoners of war or Muslims and Croats who had been expelled from their homes were pushed into punishment camps in north-western parts of Bosnia, where people were starved or beaten to death. The war took more than 100,000 lives, mostly of non-Serbs.
Karadzic and his cronies set up a stronghold in the village of Pale, a former Austro-Hungarian spa in the mountains overlooking Sarajevo. It served as the capital of the Bosnian Serbs until the war ended in 1995. In the former ski hotel that served as his headquarters, Karadzic – who revelled in the international attention he attracted as the head and founder of his state – regaled foreign journalists with his knowledge of history, politics, culture, poetry and more. As artillery bombarded Bosnian positions a few kilometres away and sent down murderous volleys on civilians standing in line for water, the head of state held forth.
He admonished a New York Times reporter who had described the reality of ethnic cleansing; how Serbian paramilitaries had gone from house to house, chasing out terrified women and children, rounding up and killing Muslim men. It was not like that at all, he insisted; the Muslims were being given the chance to "return" to the only place they could really call home, among their co-religionists.
In the course of the fruitless, internationally sponsored negotiations over the Bosnian war that lurched on between 1992 and 1995, Karadzic became ever more of a megalomaniac, wallowing in what he saw as the international glory and fame that being a head of state brought with it. He loved to appear before the international television crews playing the gusle, a traditional one-string instrument of the Balkans, insisting that it represented the acme of the national culture.
He paraded before the Bosnian Serb troops in a manner that recalled the late Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito, calling on his tiny and absurd nation to be "proud of its achievements and defiance against the world". He also enjoyed posing before the portrait of the father of Serbian language reforms, Vuk Karadzic, claiming to be the relative of this famous 19th-century linguist, although there was no true family connection.
Propaganda films transmitted on both Bosnian Serb and Serbian TV while the war was raging in Bosnia showed Karadzic shopping with his wife in an expensive shop in Geneva. He was filmed trying on Burberry raincoats, leaving the shop with the one he had chosen. She was seen admiring him, dressed in an extravagant mink coat.
In February 1993, when a bomb exploded in World Trade Centre in New York, killing five people, Karadzic said he could not "exclude the possibility" that Serbs had planted it. The investigation showed that it was the work of Islamic extremists.
Karadzic was forced to step down as the political leader of Bosnian Serbs in 1996, and disappeared after the signing of the Dayton Accords. However, as the war did not end with any clear proclamation of winners and losers, the seeds were sown for further distancing of the three national groups within Bosnia – Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs – which have barely come to terms again, even today. As Richard Holbrooke wrote presciently to Bill Clinton, "the fate of two odious war criminals" has been hanging over the Balkans and a true resolution of its disputes ever since.
Karadzic's fall in 1996 opened a long-running game of cat and mouse with Nato-led troops when about 60,000 soldiers arrived in Bosnia to oversee the implementation of the peace accords. For a while, Karadzic lived an almost normal life in Pale, in open defiance of Nato forces stationed there, but it was reported in autumn 1998 that he had moved to the eastern town of Visegrad and later on to another town in the region, Foca.
There have been many attempts to arrest Karadzic in Bosnia on the part of the international troops over the past years, though they have often been accused of not trying hard enough. The former Serbian prime minister Kostunica's stunning statement that the indicted war criminals were "a stone around Serbia's neck" in January 2006 led to a flurry of rumours that arrests were imminent. Still nothing happened. Raids on the homes of the Karadzic family in Pale as well as in Montenegro became almost routine, but none seemed to bring his capture any closer. Karadzic's son Sasa spent several weeks in prison in 2005, as the Bosnian authorities tried to discover if he was helping his father. No breakthroughs followed.
Karadzic's wife Ljiljana, who had long and openly supported his refusal to surrender, changed her tune in 2005 and launched public and poignant appeals for him to surrender in that year and again in 2007, claiming that the pressures on family were "too hard to bear". Karadzic himself ignored her change of heart, as he declared in letters to Serbian media, the last one published in 2005. He remained defiant to the end, dismissing the UN war crimes tribunal as "illegal".
And now we learn that not only did he manage to stay out of the clutches of the law, but he also managed to fashion himself a new and unrecognisable life. Through a network of loyal friends and supporters, he managed to print five books during his years on the run, including a turgid novel entitled Miraculous Chronicle of the Night, published in 2005, about a Sarajevo intellectual who ends up wrongfully in prison after the death of Tito in 1980.
A collection of love letters to his wife Ljiljana surfaced in 2005 as well. He writes about his "raging volcanic emotions" for the woman he calls his "dearest human being" and longs for further clandestine meetings with her. He feels like an adolescent, and his "eyes... and ears and hands... and whole being" are "hungry" for her.
Now, however, that meeting seems further away than ever. Instead of meeting Ljiljana, Karadzic is most likely to meet his comrades in arms in a couple of days' time at the detention unit of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The papers for his extradition are ready.
This raises hopes that the arrests of Mladic and Hadzic will soon follow, removing the most stubborn obstacles to Serbia finally joining the EU, as the handing over of the remaining fugitives from justice is the main precondition for quicker passage towards membership.
In Sarajevo, the news of Karadzic's arrest sparked outbursts of joy. The President of the rotating Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency, Haris Silajdzic said that "this [the arrest] was at least some satisfaction for the families of victims". He added: "This cleansing is necessary so people know there is justice."
His country, however, remains hobbled by the insanely complicated state architecture sanctified at Dayton, which continues to keep the different groups at arm's length from each other.
That, and the thousands of dead – the siege and shelling of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs took more lives than the Second World War German occupation – has been Karadzic's main gift to his country. The process of reconciliation has hardly begun, and few of the 1.8 million people uprooted by the war have so far come home.
War criminals still at large...
Dr Aribert Heim
Heim, who ranks alongside Mengele as one of the most reviled Nazis, was thought to have died until, in 2005, bank documents suggested he was alive, possibly in Chile. Heim, 94, murdered hundreds of Jews at Mauthausen concentration camp in 1941by subjecting them to his "experiments" .
Sudan's President came to power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989. This month, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court accused Al-Bashir, 64, of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur, where more than 250,000 people have died since 2003.
Karadzic's right-hand man, Ratko Mladic was the Bosnian Serb military commander. Mladic, 65, is accused of conspiring to massacre 7,500 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The pair are also indicted for the siege of Sarajevo, which left 10,000 dead. Mladic has been in hiding since 2001.
As leader of Uganda's notorious rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), Kony, 46, has been called bandit, terrorist, prophet and madman. He wants to rule according to the Ten Commandments, yet the LRA has abducted girls to be sex slaves and boys killers. Wanted for crimes against humanity.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant in 2006 for Congolese warlord Ntaganda. As a leader in the rebel Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC), Ntaganda, 35, is accused of conscripting child soldiers and taking part in FPLC attacks in which an estimated 50,000 people were killed.
...and five facing trial
Lubanga, 47, who led a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was arrested in 2005 following the murder of nine UN peacekeepers, and again on a charge of enlisting children. He has been on trial at The Hague but could walk free, over the prosecution's stance on witnesses.
Mengistu Haile Mariam
When the former Ethiopian president fled his country in 1991, he left a land ravaged by famine. Mengistu, now 71, is held responsible for the deaths of thousands of Ethiopians during the 1970s. This year, he was sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia but remains exiled in Zimbabwe.
Taylor, 60, started Liberia's civil war as a warlord in 1989, before being elected president in 1997. He faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone. His presidency ended in 2003 and he is on trial in The Hague.
Kaing Guek Eav ('Duch')
The former head of interrogations at Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng jail is one of five former Khmer Rouge figures still on trial in Cambodia. Pol Pot's regime is blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people. Pot died in 1998 and the remaining targets are becoming increasingly frail.
The magnate and former Democratic Republic of Congo warlord was arrested near Brussels this year. Bemba, who is about 45, is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes as head of a militia that allegedly committed atrocities in the Central African Republic in 2002-03.