SERBIA - One of the world's most wanted men, the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, was arrested last night in Serbia after 12 years on the run from charges of genocide and war crimes.The man indicted for the Srebrenica massacre and the Sarajevo siege, among other war crimes, was arrested by Serbian security officers and taken before a war crimes court in Belgrade, according to a statement from the office of the Serbian president, Boris Tadic.
Karadzic was said to have been under surveillance for weeks after a tip-off from an unnamed foreign intelligence agency, and had been picked up in Belgrade. The prosecutor's office at The Hague war crimes tribunal said it expected Karadzic to be handed over "in due course".
Last night he was undergoing formal identification, including DNA testing, and was scheduled to meet investigators. Heavily armed security forces took up position around the court, a precaution against a backlash from ultra-nationalists.
The arrest came on the eve of a European foreign ministers' meeting about Serbia's ties with the EU, which has made action against Karadzic and his former military commander, Ratko Mladic, a condition of membership. It also came days after the formation of a pro-western coalition government pledged to pursue EU accession.
The European commission president, JosÃƒ© Manuel Barroso, said Karadzic's arrest "proves the determination of the new Serbian government to achieve full cooperation with the [Hague tribunal]. It is also very important for Serbia's European aspirations."
A US official spoke last night of heightened expectation that Mladic, also wanted on genocide charges, would be arrested.
Richard Holbrooke, the American diplomat who helped negotiate an end to the Bosnian war, described Karadzic as the Osama bin Laden of Europe, and "a real, true architect of mass murder".
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The prosecutor at the Hague tribunal, Serge Brammertz, issued a statement welcoming the arrest and congratulating the Serb authorities. "This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade. It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice."
In Sarajevo, there were celebrations in the street when the news broke, and cars drove through the centre of the town honking their horns.
Karadzic's wife, Ljiljana, told the Associated Press from her home in Karadzic's former stronghold, Pale, that her daughter Sonja had called her before midnight. "As the phone rang, I knew something was wrong," she said. "I'm shocked. Confused. At least now we know he is alive."
Karadzic faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity inflicted on Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-95 war, when he was president of the breakaway Republika Srpska.
The charge sheet includes the murder of nearly 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, after the supposedly UN-protected enclave fell to Bosnian Serb forces. The former psychiatrist and aspiring poet is also charged with running death camps for non-Serbs, and the shelling and sniping on civilians in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, in a siege that lasted more than three years.
After the war and deployment of Nato troops, Karadzic and Mladic disappeared from public view. But this month a democratically elected, pro-western Serbian government came to power, a 10-party coalition run by former finance minister Mirko Cvetkovic and aligned with the reformist Tadic. Both came to office with a mandate for reform and closer ties with the EU.
It was suggested last night that Karadzic had been tracked down by a Serbian "action team" devoted to hunting down war crimes suspects.
© 2008 The Guardian