After a 13-year hunt Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of masterminding the Srebrenica massacre, has finally been arrested in Serbia.
It was a momentous arrest that brought to mind the capture of Saddam Hussein. "Ladies and Gentlemen, we got him." They were the words of Paul Bremer, the American pro-consul in Iraq, on the capture of the former Iraqi leader. But they could equally apply to last night's triumphant announcement that the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic had finally been run to ground by Serbian security forces.
Karadzic, wanted by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for genocide, has eluded the world's best-equipped armies since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995 and topped the list of the UN war crimes court for former Yugoslavia. His co-indictee, the Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic, remains at large, however.
The pair are accused of masterminding the massacre of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys in the "safe haven" of Srebrenica in July 1995. It was the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of the Second World War. They are also indicted for the siege of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, that lasted for three-and-half years and left 10,000 people dead.
Karadzic, 64, has been handed over to the war crimes section of Belgrade County Court, pending his extradition to The Hague, in The Netherlands. No details were released last night on the circumstances of the arrest which was announced by the Serbian president's office.
The arrest, a milestone for Serbia, which had been accused of shielding the pair for more than a decade, sets the Balkans country firmly on the road to European Union membership under the new pro-European government there. The arrest of Karadzic and other indicted war criminals is a key condition posed by the EU for membership.
The news was greeted with euphoria across Europe, and welcomed by the UN War Crimes Prosecutor for the Former Yugoslavia and by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which had launched a number of unsuccessful raids on Karadzic's presumed hideouts in recent years.
The EU said the arrest "illustrates the commitment of the new Belgrade government to contributing to peace and stability in the Balkans region".
A statement from the EU presidency, currently held by France, said the arrest was "an important step on the path to the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union". The issue of Serbian membership is expected to be discussed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels today.
Richard Holbrooke, a former US assistant secretary of state for Europe who negotiated the 1995 Dayton accords that ended the Bosnian war, welcomed his capture, describing him as the Osama bin Laden of Europe, "a real, true architect of mass murder".
In Britain, the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also welcomed the arrest but pointed out that the fractured country of Bosnia would only obtain closure once Mladic, too, had been sent to The Hague. The leader accused of being the architect of the Balkan wars, Slobodan Milosevic, died in The Hague in 2006 while fighting war crimes charges.
Many in Serbia, however, will be more circumspect about Mr Karadzic's arrest, which took place only weeks after the new government took power under President Boris Tadic, suspecting a deal had been brokered. For many Serbs, Karadzic is still a hero of the Bosnian conflict, which left more than 100,000 dead, mostly non-Serbs. More than 1.8 million people were forced to leave their homes and many remain displaced.
Karadzic, a psychiatrist by training, went into hiding only a year after the war in Bosnia had ended with the Dayton accords.
It is widely believed that he used the sanctuaries of Orthodox monasteries in the border region of eastern Bosnia and Montenegro for years. He is also said to have resorted to elaborate disguises, such as posing as a priest by shaving off his trademark silver mane and donning a brown cassock, to elude authorities.
While in hiding, he published five books – poetry and novels – widely publicised by his supporters. The former UN prosecutor for the former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, openly accused successive Serbian governments of shielding Karadzic. She also said that Mladic could be arrested if the "political will" were present. Attempts to reach Karadzic through his family, through regular searches at their homes in Pale, once the stronghold of Bosnian Serbs, were in vain. He did not react to an appeal by his wife, Ljiljana, in 2005, who begged him to surrender saying the family could no longer "live under pressure." Karadzic has a daughter, Sonja, and son, Sasa with Ljiljana,
Additional reporting by Anne Penketh
*Radovan Karadzic has been one of the world's most wanted men since 1995. Before last night's arrest, sightings of Karadzic were rare, but in 2004 he published a book, Miraculous Chronicles Of The Night. Pressure to capture him mounted in 2005 after several of his ex-generals gave themselves up, and a video showing Bosnian-Serb soldiers shooting captives from Srebrenica was shown at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic. In 2007, the homes of Karadzic's two children were raided by Nato troops, who suspected they were supporting him.