Serb Leader Karadzic Sacks Rival, Defying Efforts to Sideline Him

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has struck a blow against Western efforts to sideline him by dismissing moderate Serb Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic yesterday.

Mr. Kasagic had angered hard-line Serb leaders in the self-declared capital of Pale by cooperating with Western officials and NATO-led troops trying to implement the Dayton peace plan in Bosnia. The West sees people like Kasagic as critical to making the American-brokered deal work. If hard-liners stay in power, international officials and observers say, peace could founder soon after NATO forces leave Bosnia.

Based in the Serbs' largest city of Banja Luka, Kasagic has been the focus in recent weeks of a deliberate effort by Western officials to marginalize the extremist Pale leadership and cultivate Serb moderates in Banja Luka.

Banja Luka, in northwest Bosnia, was never touched directly by the war, and Serbs there blame Mr. Karadzic and other extremists in their Pale stronghold for starting the war.

Karadzic, the self-appointed Serb "president" who has been twice indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, is currently seen by Western officials as the greatest obstacle to achieving peace in Bosnia.

Though he is forbidden from taking part in countrywide elections later this year, the sacking of Kasagic indicates that he still wields power.

A statement from Karadzic's office said the prime minister was fired to "protect constitutional order ... and prevent any further worsening of the crisis in the government's work."

Kasagic's cooperation with the United Nations and chief civilian administrator, Carl Bildt, it said, threatened the vital interests of the Bosnian Serb republic.

President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, who signed the Dayton accord on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs five months ago, was to ensure that Karadzic no longer held real power. But instead - and despite arrest orders for him in the hands of thousands of NATO-led troops in Bosnia - Karadzic continues to rule. "Karadzic helps the extremists on the [Muslim-led Bosnian government] side," said Mr. Bildt's deputy, Michael Steiner in Sarajevo. "As long as you have the wrong people in power in Pale, there is no hope for peace."

Karadzic still clings to his nationalist Serb ideology of separation of Bosnia's three ethnic groups. Under his leadership, Serb forces in 1992 began a war to "cleanse" north and eastern Bosnia of Muslims and Croats. He has not recanted, though the Dayton accord requires peace and integration between ethnic groups.

Last month Karadzic prevented any Serb delegates from attending an important donors' conference in Brussels, and he has ruled out Serb cooperation with the peace deal.

Counter to this policy, Kasagic in recent weeks has helped negotiate the transfer of the British peace force headquarters to Banja Luka. And last week Bildt opened an office there and conducted high-profile business from the city.

Serb sources in Pale say that the moves infuriated Karadzic, since Western officials and senior diplomats have made no secret of their intentions to isolate the Serb leader. Kasagic was last week recalled to Pale. "My biggest fear is that the international community will not give us enough money to rebuild, with President Karadzic in office," one Serb in Pale said.

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