Serb war leader evades Nato forces for second time in two days

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The Independent Online

Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, evaded Nato troops for the second time in as many days yesterday.

After Thursday's attempt to seize the war crimes suspect, soldiers from Nato's S-For force returned to an area close to the remote village of Celebici, near the border with Montenegro. Once again, Mr Karadzic could not be found. The alliance said the raid, thought to have included German, French and American troops, came as a result of intelligence gathered in the original swoop on a bigger area around Celebici. That raid was conducted exclusively by US troops, the Pentagon said.

Bosnian Serb officials said yesterday's raid began before dawn and ended several hours later. Armoured personnel carriers were used, despite indications that Mr Karadzic might have escaped on Thursday because the size of the operation made it difficult to conceal.

Nato said there had already been a variety of efforts to capture Mr Karadzic, including some with special forces. The number of soldiers deployed depended on the opposition they expected to encounter on a specific mission, it said. S-For troops anticipated strong resistance if they had found Mr Karadzic's hide-out.

The alliance put a brave face on its embarrassment arguing that the operation underlined its determination to prevail and sent a message not just to Mr Karadzic but to his allies and all those protecting him. Mark Laity, a Nato spokesman, said: "We need to get it right only once; he needs to hide every day." Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Nato's secretary general, predicted "more high-profile and low-profile operations" against those indicted for war crimes, adding: "The net is closing in on him and others."

The room for manoeuvre enjoyed by Mr Karadzic is getting smaller. The Serb authorities in Bosnia no longer offer him semi-official protection and Nato is stepping up pressure. Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general also accused of war crimes, is thought to be in Serbia, out of S-For's range.

Led by the US, alliance officials agreed last December to intensify efforts to seize Mr Karadzic and General Mladic. But the security of military operations in Bosnia remains an issue. It was unclear whether the tip-off about Mr Karadzic's whereabouts was incorrect or whether there was a security lapse that allowed him to flee.

One Nato diplomat said: "No matter how surreptitiously people move that can leave enough room for someone to see them go and and put two and two together." Others say some members of the S-For staff may have had an interest in alerting allies of Mr Karadzic.

Mr Karadzic, for whose capture there is a $5m (£3.5m) reward, retains popular support. He and General Mladic are wanted in The Hague on charges that include genocide.