THE HAGUE, July 30 – Serbia on Wednesday handed over former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was on the run for more than a decade, to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague to face genocide charges.
The so-called "Butcher of Bosnia" faces charges over his alleged leading role in the 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war, in which thousands died.
The 63-year-old Karadzic, who was arrested in Belgrade on July 21, left the Serbian capital on a special flight to the Netherlands in the early hours of Wednesday, just after Serbian police clashed with his supporters in Belgrade.
Serbia’s justice ministry said it had authorised Karadzic’s transfer to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
It added that the Belgrade District Court had ruled "that all conditions have been met for the turnover of Radovan Karadzic to the ICTY."
The special flight arrived at Rotterdam airport where tight security was imposed. A convoy of vehicles sped from the airport to the UN detention unit at the same time as a police helicopter made the same trip.
"Radovan Karadzic was today transferred into the Tribunal’s custody, after having been at large for more than 13 years," the ICTY said in a statement.
He is expected to be quickly brought before a judge to be given an opportunity to make a plea but no trial is expected for several months. Karadzic faces life imprisonment if found guilty of the 11 genocide and crimes against humanity charges.
Karadzic spent more than a decade on the run disguised as a bearded, long haired alternative medicine guru.
His clever disguise as Doctor Dragan Dabic stunned many. Serbian media said dozens of secret service agents had tracked Karadzic for months before his detention.
"I am proud how he has been hiding all these years and I am appalled how he was thrown in the jaws of the beast," said Karadzic supporter, 55-year-old writer Momir Vasiljevic, in Belgrade.
A close Karadzic ally, Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, is still on the run. Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, another key figure in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, died in 2006 while being tried by the ICTY.
Karadzic’s transfer came only hours after Serbian riot police clashed with youths in central Belgrade at the end of an ultra-nationalist rally by more than 15,000 people opposed to the arrest of Karadzic, who remains an iconic figure among Serbian hardliners.
At least 25 police and 19 civilians, including a Spanish and a Serbian journalist, were injured in the clashes, hospital officials said.
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the apparently drunken youths into streets surrounding the Serbian capital’s main Republican Square.
The violence erupted as ultranationalist Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic addressed the crowd. He had called for calm so that protestors could stage a "peaceful march" in Belgrade.
"Do not do it, children, we did not gather for that, we do not want to destroy Belgrade, but (President) Boris Tadic," Nikolic said.
Karadzic had been fighting a legal battle against his transfer to the UN tribunal in The Hague.
His entourage claimed he had sent an appeal against his transfer at the last minute on Friday, but the Serbian war crimes court denied that it had arrived on time. Karadzic’s lawyer admitted Wednesday that no appeal had been made.
The charges against Karazdic focus on two events from the Bosnian war the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, and the siege of Sarajevo which claimed more than 10,000 lives many of them targeted by snipers as they ran across streets or even walked in their homes.
Karadzic vanished from public view in 1996, the year after the ICTY indicted him for genocide and crimes against humanity.
A police search of Karadzic’s last hideout uncovered military documents of his Bosnian Serb regime, Serbia’s interior minister said on Monday.
The discovery was made in Karadzic’s flat in the New Belgrade district after his arrest, the Tanjug state news agency cited Interior Minister Ivica Dacic as saying.
The documents concerned meetings of his military chiefs from the Republika Srpska, the self-declared state Karadzic carved out during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.