DEBORAH AMOS, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Deborah Amos.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
An arrest for war crimes in Serbia recalls a time when countless Europeans were killed over their ethnic group. Radovan Karadzic is accused of being one of the leading killers. He's been in hiding for years. As former U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrook told CNN yesterday, Karadzic was sheltered by ethnic Serbs for whom he was a hero.
Mr. RICHARD HOLBROOK (Former U.S. Diplomat): This guy was a kind of a Robin Hood to the Bosnian Serbs - evading capture for 12 years, fomenting dissent. His removal from the scene will help enormously to create stability.
INSKEEP: Karadzic was linked to instability since the 1990s. That's when Yugoslavia broke into several countries - one of those countries was Bosnia, and his group, ethnic Serbs, violently demanded a share of it. NPR's Tom Gjelten covered the Bosnian War in the days when Karadzic seemed unstoppable.
TOM GJELTEN: Radovan Karadzic was the man first associated with the chilling term ethnic cleansing. In 1991, as Yugoslavia came apart, he presided over the creation of a Serb mini-state inside Bosnia that was to be cleansed of non-Serbs. And yet Karadzic always said he was innocent. When Western diplomats came to confront him about the expulsion of all non-Serbs from the land under his control, Karadzic insisted the Muslims and Croats had all left on their own.
Mr. RADOVAN KARADZIC (Alleged War Criminal): There is no single sign of any ethnic cleansing here.
GJELTEN: But Muslim refugees from Serb-held territory, like Safika Damiravic(ph), told a different, far more violent story.
Ms. SAFIKA DAMIRAVIC (Refugee): (Through translator) We had ten minutes to come together on the football ground. We walked and there is six or seven bodies in front of us. We had to walk over them. It was all bloody. We didn't know who it was. We had to have our hands up with a white flag in front of us.
GJELTEN: Radovan Karadzic came from a cosmopolitan city - Sarajevo - where Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews lived together. But he wanted Sarajevo split in two, with one side serving as the Bosnian Serb capital. When Sarajevans resisted the effort to divide their city, the Bosnian-Serb army surrounded it. By June 1992 it was shut off from the outside world. Gordon Ikanejavic(ph) spoke for thousands of Sarajevo residents.
Mr. GORDON IKANEJAVIC: I don't know when the spring was finished and I don't know when the summer started. And there are only two seasons now - there is a war season and somewhere in the world there is a peace season. Not for us here.
GJELTEN: The worst was yet to come. Bosnian-Serb forces overran the U.N. troops protecting the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. The Serbs rounded up thousands of men and boys and executed them. When the massacre became known, the United States and other NATO countries launched air strikes against the Serb forces.
Radovan Karadzic was outraged. What had gone on in Srebrenica, he said, was between Serbs and Muslims and was none of NATO's business.
Mr. KARADZIC: Why they take one side through the war? And I do think that they have created a precedent that may endanger world's peace and that may trigger Third World War.
GJELTEN: But Radovan Karadzic's days as the leader of the Bosnian Serbs were numbered. A newly organized international criminal tribunal at The Hague indicted him for orchestrating the siege of Sarajevo. Later he was held responsible for the Srebrenica slaughter. Along with General Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, Radovan Karadzic was formally charged with genocide.
For more than a decade he was in hiding, moving from village to village in the Serb-dominated part of Bosnia, in the neighboring republic of Montenegro, and in Serbia itself. In the end he was arrested in Serbia, where there is now a new government anxious to have better relations with Europe.
Radovan Karadzic had become an obstacle. A special action team of the Serbian security services located him and arrested him yesterday - 15 years after the siege of Sarajevo; 13 years after the slaughter at Srebrenica. Ara Solijic(ph), a former prime minister of the Muslim-led Bosnian government, told the BBC last night the people of Sarajevo are relieved.
Mr. ARA SOLIJIC (Former Prime Minister): They have waited too long, which was a disgrace for the international community, for the war of justice, and of course for Serbia. And I'm glad that this will now open the way for other cooperation and improvement in this part of the world.
GJELTEN: With the arrest of Karadzic, attention turns now to General Mladic. For years he has enjoyed the protection of old friends in the Serbian security services. But many of his allies are no longer in power, and his days as a free man may also be drawing to a close.
Tom Gjelten, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.