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Serb leaders await judgment in purgatory

Bosnia's partners in crime remain free to brood or boast of their bloodthirsty deeds, writes Emma Daly
Pale - Radovan Karadzic, the poet-psychiatrist who led the Bosnian Serbs into four years of war, is the anti-Scarlet Pimpernel: he is everywhere, yet Nato seeks mostly not to seek him there. General Ratko Mladic, his partner in crimes against humanity, according to the International Tribunal, has taken a more traditional role, vanishing into a subterranean bunker.

But Mr Karadzic has become ever bolder in his travels above ground, ever more grandiose in his schemes for the future, hoping to write the tale of two cities: old Sarajevo, reduced to rubble by his guns, and new Sarajevo, a golden place built by the world for Serbs who have fled the capital.

Mr Karadzic and General Mladic, the civilian and military authors of the bloody Serb war in Bosnia, are fugitives in a shrinking fiefdom, sought by the International War Crimes Tribunal on charges of genocide. The 60,000 Nato troops based in Bosnia have the right to arrest both men, but not the inclination, at least for the time being.

The practical difficulties of acting against the general are more obvious. He is elusive, although he is rumoured to be living under Mount Zep, in the warren of bunkers and buildings that make up Bosnian Serb Army headquarters close to the town of Han Pijesak, in eastern Bosnia.

A sign beside a narrow, snowy road winding through pine trees gives the only clue to the nature of the apparently peaceful landscape around: foreigners are barred from stopping their cars or walking in the wood. Around a bend stands the castle keep, constructed of pine and manned by several young soldiers, who summoned an officer to deal with their unexpected visitors.

"How did you find this place?" the officer asked, bemused. Directed by locals, of course, in our search for General Mladic. "Do you know where the general is?" he asked. No. "Then why did you come here?" It seemed our best bet. We were not invited in, and our cameras were temporarily removed, but the greeting was cordial.

In view of the gossip that General Mladic is depressed and drinking heavily, we asked how the commander was. "Even in peacetime life is difficult for generals," the officer sighed. "He has many problems, not just with the soldiers but with civilians [moving out of Sarajevo] who have nowhere to live. He's very busy." But he still, apparently, finds time and space to visit his troops. "Of course, why not?"

Why, indeed, when Mr Karadzic enjoys relative freedom of movement through the territory patrolled by Nato. He is always accompanied, it must be said, by at least three bodyguards, although they are probably thinking first about the threat from disgruntled constituents, or from Belgrade, rather than Nato.

As one Serb analyst noted, Mr Karadzic seems better off now than before the Dayton peace deal. First, he noted, the Serbian state media has ended its smear campaign against war profiteering and war crimes. Secondly, Mr Karadzic has yet to suffer the fatal car accident predicted by many in Belgrade. President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, former mentor to both men, is apparently biding his time before disposing of them.

In the longer term, however, the future looks bleak. Mr Karadzic's party, the SDS, will contest the elections but his name will not be on the ballot.

As an indicted war criminal, Mr Karadzic cannot hold office. He may remain the power behind the throne, but in a land where strength is prized above all in a leader, his will surely start to fade.

And the SDS will face stiff electoral competition from Mr Milosevic's own Serbian Socialist Party (SPS), which is setting up branches in Bosnia and seeking allies among those opposed to Mr Karadzic. Judging by its words to date, the Bosnian SPS plans to campaign on the argument that political union with Serbia will not be possible until the Bosnian Serb entity shares Belgrade's political philosophy, that is, the philosophy of its ruling party.

Mr Karadzic has looked drawn in recent public appearances, despite some success in quelling dissent in Banja Luka, and many of his constituents say his fate is sealed. Most people in Pale were embarrassed by Mr Karadzic's grandiose scheme for a "new" Sarajevo to house Serbs who have fled the capital as the entire city reverts to government rule. Even the television presenter quizzing the "President" sounded sceptical, asking who would pay for this brave new world?

"Karadzic's name will be writ large in our history books," said the commander of an elite military unit based in Pale. "But there are stronger forces trying to push him out and I think he will have to go. It's the same for Mladic."

The general has not been seen in public since a review of the troops in December, a remarkable absence even for one who always shunned the media limelight. Perhaps he has spent the time in Belgrade, the site of the grave of his daughter, who committed suicide in 1994. Her death was never explained: rumours in Belgrade had it that she was terminally ill, or that she could not bear the guilt of her father's career in Bosnia.

"Mladic," said one Serb in Pale, "is not in heaven or on earth but in between. I don't know the word in English." He meant purgatory; the general's victims hope it will soon be hell - that or The Hague.