Karadzic: A dozen years hiding in the public eye

2008-07-23 07:24:15 GMT       2008-07-23 15:24:15 (Beijing Time)       SINA.com

Serbian authorities offered a glimpse Tuesday into the surprisingly open lifestyle adopted by top war crimes fugitive Radovan Karadzic while he was on the run for more than a decade.

Unlike late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who was eventually found in a hole in the ground, Karadzic lead a relatively ordinary life in order to eke out a living and survive while avoiding justice.

Of all the many fugitives of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the least was known about Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb political leader who was arrested near Belgrade on Monday.

During a dozen or so years of evading capture, speculation as to his whereabouts was rife, with some reports having him disguised as an Orthodox monk, with a shaved head and hiding in the mountains between Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro.

Others claimed he had fled to Russia, finding shelter among Russian nationalists who supported Serbs during Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

Karadzic was last seen and photographed in the former Bosnian Serb military stronghold Han Pijesak in July 1996, a year after the ICTY unsealed his indictment.

In the end, thanks to a reported tip-off from foreign intelligence services, he was discovered to have been living a relatively public life in the heart of the Serbian capital Belgrade, a city of two million people.

Karadzic was heavily disguised, sporting large glasses, almost hippy-like flowing white hair and a long beard while posing as a doctor in a private naturopathy clinic.

He even rode on public transport.

The 63-year-old was mixing with patients who had no idea they were being treated by a man one US diplomat described as "the Osama bin Laden of Europe."

According to Rasim Ljajic, the minister in charge of Serbia's cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, Karadzic used false foreign documents bearing the name "Dragan Dabic".

"He was very convincing in hiding his identity, he was working and performing alternative medicine, making money," Ljajic said, holding up a photograph of the shaggy-looking Karadzic at a press conference.

"One can see how convincing his false identity was," Serbia's chief war crimes prosecutor Vladimir Vukcevic told the reporters.

"He freely walked around town, even showing up at various public places," Vukcevic said.

As well as the patients at the clinic, landlords and health writers had no apparent idea of his true identity.

Karadzic, a trained psychiatrist who presented himself as Dr. Dragan Dabic, had even written about meditation for the "Healthy Life" medical journal, according to its editor Goran Kojic.

The article was about the similarities and differences between meditation and Orthodox Christian "silent practices."

"When I met him, he looked strange. He had long grey hair gathered in a ponytail and strangely braided at the top," Kojic told Tanjug news agency.

The same man -- who was given the pen-name "Dabic, Spiritual Explorer" -- gave lectures on the same topic in Smederevo, a town east of Belgrade, as well as the capital in May.

Karadzic's lawyer Svetozar Vujacic said his client had been living in Belgrade for a long time, "working in a private practise while people who were in contact with him had no clue who he was".

"He did not have contacts with politicians in Serbia and Republika Srpska (the post-war Bosnian Serb entity), he did not have any security and he lived by himself," Vujacic said.

Serbia's new pro-Western government hopes that what it can learn about Karadzic's life as a fugitive can help it to track down the two remaining fugitives of the UN court.

"We are still working on a reconstruction of Karadzic's movements. We have two more indictees and we will use operational data collected for them," Ljajic said, referring to Karadzic's wartime army chief Ratko Mladic, 65, and former Croatian Serb political leader Goran Hadzic, 49.

(Agencies)

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