Before dawn on Tuesday, NATO troops seeking indicted Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic raided the homes of relatives who they suspect have been aiding his 11-year flight from justice.
But rather than a stepped-up campaign to capture Mr. Karadzic and other men charged with genocide by the UN in 1995, the raid appears to be a last-ditch effort to catch the fugitive and his former associates.
Close friends of Karadzic have been recently acquitted of charges that they were helping to finance his life in hiding, and the European Union has backed away from demands that Serbia, which has provided refuge to a number of Bosnian Serb leaders charged with war crimes, give the men up as a precondition for ascension to the EU.
NATO officials said Tuesday's raid, which targeted the homes of Karadzic's grown son and daughter in Pale, nine miles east of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, was conducted as part of an effort to expose the shadowy network that Karadzic relies on.
But the efforts to break up his logistical and financial support network have been disjointed at best. Though Karadzic's wife, Ljilijan Zelen-Karadzic, and his son, Sasa, are banned from EU travel as part of a series of measures to pressure the family to give him up, his daughter, Sonja – whose home was raided on Tuesday – has been exempted.
Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, says that while there are photos of Sasa appearing with his father since the indictment, and a record of correspondence between Mr. and Mrs. Karadzic, there's no proof that Sonja is in touch with her father. "Adaptations to the list are always possible, but we need evidence of contact," she adds.
The sputtering effort to capture Karadzic has many causes, analysts say. The prosecution of his friends has been marked by incompetence and infighting among prosecutors on Bosnia's internationally supported courts, court members say; in Serbia, former associates like Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is accused of ordering the massacre of 7,500 unarmed Bosnians at Srebenica in 1995, are seen by many as heroes; and for the EU, its concerns over justice in the former Yugoslavia are being weighed against its desire to convince Serbia to allow its largely Muslim province of Kosovo to gain more independence, European diplomats say.
The failed prosecutions have been particularly disappointing to UN officials. Three Karadzic associates – Momcilo Mandic, Milovan Bjelica, and Mirko Sarovic – were charged with bilking millions of euros from a bank they'd founded just after the war, but two were acquitted and freed in late 2006. Another associate, Karadzic's former police minister, Radomir Kojic, was arrested last year on suspicion of money laundering through his demining company. He was released without being charged at the end of December.
Court sources say the internationally funded Bosnian court's several high- profile losses last year were the result of faulty indictments laid by some of the international prosecutors, and a US-funded court administrator who failed to assign cases. Bad blood and squabbling also poisoned the relationship between the British and North Americans, on the one hand, and the continental Europeans, on the other, who all worked on the court.
"That's been the most damaging thing that happened at the court," says an international official who helped with some of the prosecutions. "The prosecutors missed the opportunity to ram home on organized crime."
While the attempts to throw a wrench into Karadzic's support network in Bosnia have stalled, the European Union is backing off from last May's ultimatum to Serbia: Hand over Mladic before we'll advance your request to join the EU.
Earlier this month, EU officials visiting the Serbian capital of Belgrade said they would be willing to restart the talks if Serbia merely showed "clear commitment" to capture Mladic, even as chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte called Serbia's efforts to capture Mladic "just a smokescreen." She urged the EU to stick to its guns, but so far to no avail.
Analysts in the region say that with the war crimes tribunal set to close by 2010, and international donors losing interest in what has seemed an interminable legal process, Ms. Del Ponte's calls for pressure on Serbia are falling on deaf ears, despite the fact that most international justice advocates see it as the best route for bringing the former Yugoslavia's alleged war criminals to justice.
"It's the only leverage that the international community has to pry Mladic loose," says Kurt Bassuener, a Sarajevo-based senior associate with the advocacy group Democratization Policy Council. "If that keeps being undercut, you've got nothing – you're never going to see the guy."