Ashdown attacks Nato's half-hearted efforts to bring Karadzic to justice

By Stephen Castle
Saturday 01 February 2003 01:00

Paddy Ashdown has made an outspoken attack on Nato's failure to arrest the most wanted man in the Balkans.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, the high representative to Bosnia, made his first public criticism of Nato's policing of the Balkans, saying the effort to arrest Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader, amounts to no more than waiting for a "lucky break".

Karadzic was indicted on war crimes charges in 1995.

"This guy has been running around the hills for seven years and we haven't caught him," said Lord Ashdown. In a phrase likely to provoke acute annoyance at Nato, Lord Ashdown added: "You sit around under the tree that the poisoned fruit is hanging on and hope for the lucky break, that it falls off and that we are in the right place to catch it."

During talks with Nato this week Lord Ashdown appealed for a more active policy, with a special unit and more resources devoted to capturing Karadzic. Although Nato has about 12,000 troops in Bosnia, the men and equipment needed to track down Karadzic appear to be in short supply. Special forces, intelligence and surveillance equipment are being used to try to counter terrorist threats around the world.

Lord Ashdown also said more could be done to undermine support for Karadzic, who enjoys massive backing from the local population.

The region in which Karadzic is living is well known. Last February and March Nato troops made two attempts to detain Karadzic in the village of Celebici. A further attempt was made in July when one of the homes of the Karadzic family in Pale was raided.

Nato reacted coolly to the criticism. An official said: "We spoke to Paddy Ashdown this week and it was a friendly conversation. His high degree of activity is what is needed in Bosnia. We are not going to react to a single phrase and put ourselves in a position of having a row with someone we support."

A spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, welcomed Lord Ashdown's comments, adding: "A way must be found to arrest Karadzic even if there are obstacles."

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