The 8,000 American troops keeping a temporary peace in Bosnia are poised, along with their NATO allies, to nab one of the world's most wanted war criminals.
The threat to arrest former Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic was made over the weekend in a save-the-peace mission by US special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
NATO forces are due to exit Bosnia next June, but the peace accords negotiated in Dayton by Mr. Holbrooke two years ago are "in shreds," in his own words.
Much of the blame goes to Mr. Karadzic, who officially lost power but still pulls the strings in Bosnian Serb areas.
If Karadzic continues to wield power, Holbrooke warned, then NATO would seek him out. Last year, Karadzic reneged on a similar commitment to stay out of the limelight.
NATO commanders said this weekend they decided that Karadzic's 3,000-man police force protecting him and his smuggling operations would come under NATO control.
Milosevic told to curb Karadzic
The US message was delivered to former Karadzic mentor, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Mr. Milosevic and Karadzic helped drive the three-year war in the former Yugoslavia.
"There is no change whatsoever in the United States' firm, unyielding position that Mr. Karadzic should present himself to The Hague for trial," Holbrooke said in Belgrade. "On the other hand, ... it is better to have him disengaged from public affairs than engaged. His maneuvering and behavior behind the scenes are an additional impediment to the Dayton agreement."
NATO has already shown it can arrest suspected war criminals. On July 10, British troops for the first time went and arrested one suspect and killed another, Prijedor police chief Simo Drljaca, who fired on them. A third suspect was arrested by investigators from the war crimes tribunal in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia.
The NATO action signaled that Western leaders - once afraid of reprisals against its troops - had now resolved to do something about the 67 men accused of war crimes, still at large and obstructing the 21-month-old peace process.
But actually arresting Karadzic, despite NATO's prowess, may be difficult.
"If Holbrooke thinks he can barge in here and bully war criminals into turning themselves over, he's wrong," said analyst Chris Bennett, author of "Yugoslavia's Bloody Collapse" and analyst at the International Crisis Group in Sarajevo. "No one expects Milosevic to hand over the guy who will convict him."
Karadzic would be expected to implicate Milosevic if he is put on trial.
Bennett and other analysts say the best way to get Karadzic to the Hague is to keep up the pressure by continued snatch operations "left, right, center."
"Karadzic is likely to turn himself over if he believes there is a credible threat that he will be captured," said a West European diplomat here who asked not to be identified.
"If he had to choose between a NATO raid, or a car accident arranged by Milosevic, he would probably choose The Hague."
Timing of likely NATO raid
But Washington sources have signalled there will be no further raids until after Bosnia's municipal elections, scheduled for next month, because of the social upheaval they are feared to cause.
Holbrooke's visit attempted to salvage other aspects of the peace accords. He spurred Bosnian leaders to agree on a formula by which Bosnia's 33 ambassadorships will be distributed among its three main ethnic groups - Bosnian Muslims get the United Nations in New York, the Serbs can have Washington, and the Croats get Tokyo.
Bosnia's three-man presidency also agreed that the country would fall under one telephone country code. But they are still stuck on a design for the national flag, currency coupon, passports, and citizenship.
The remaining disagreements reflect a larger problem: Bosnia's Muslims, Croats, and in particular Serbs, cannot agree that they want to be part of the same country.
That is the central issue that led to the war, and the one that Holbrooke, despite his reputation as a tough, even bullying negotiator, and other diplomats have not been able to overcome.