July 22, 2008 / 1:08 PM / 11 years ago

Stunned and happy, Sarajevo awaits Karadzic trial

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO, July 22 (Reuters) - Many people in Sarajevo expressed joy and surprise on Tuesday at the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, hailing it as a chance to get the truth about what happened during the 1992-95 war.

Many interviewed on Tuesday said they believed the former Bosnian Serb leader blamed for suffering and killings during the 43-month siege of the Bosnian capital had been allowed to escape justice. He had been in hiding for 11 years.

"Is this possible?" asked Minka, a pensioner, hurrying to the market on a rainy day.

"I simply cannot believe it," said Minka, a Muslim trapped in the Serb-occupied Grbavica neighbourhood during the siege.

Karadzic, who wanted the Serb areas of Bosnia to be linked to a greater Serbia, was indicted for genocide by the U.N. war crimes tribunal with his military commander Ratko Mladic over the siege of Sarajevo when some 11,000 people were killed.

He was also indicted over the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

Serbian officials said he was arrested on Monday evening while moving from one Belgrade suburb to another.

Hundreds poured onto the streets of Sarajevo when news of the arrest first broke. But many said they were disillusioned with the West for its failure to arrest him for years.

"They could have arrested him any time they wanted," said a man who identified himself as Mevludin.

"Whatever lies behind his arrest is now unimportant," said Monja Matovic, 24. "The arrest itself is significant for all of us who have been through the war and suffering."

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement ended the war without a clear winner, dividing the country into two ethnic-based halves — the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic, which have co-existed in an uneasy alliance since.

Mladic is at large and believed to be hiding in Serbia.

Most Bosnian Muslim politicians said it should be used as an opportunity to get rid of his legacy.

"Karadzic and Mladic are not that important," said the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Zlatko Lagumdzija, a member of Bosnia’s wartime presidency who was badly wounded in the war. "What is important is the project they personify."

The Bosnian Serbs have said they would secede if their republic’s survival is threatened.

"Karadzic is not Republika Srpska and Republika Srpska has not been created by Radovan Karadzic," said Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik. "Republika Srpska was created based on a wish of the people."


The families of thousands of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, masterminded by Karadzic and Mladic and seen as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War Two, see the arrest as a light at the end of the tunnel.

"I hope the tribunal will speed up the trial ... He deserves a lifetime in prison for the atrocities he committed with the help of Serbia and Montenegro," said Srebrenica survivor Sabaheta Fejzic.

Fejzic’s baby son and husband were taken away from her when Bosnian Serb forces separated women from men and all boys over 14 in the U.N. compound in Potocari near Srebrenica. She lost 16 relatives in the massacre.

"Those who had been harbouring Karadzic all these years finally arrested him at the moment when the world is giving a green light to Serbia to join the EU," she said.

"But the arrest of this butcher is good for both Bosnia and Serbia ... Now there is a trace of hope that the same destiny awaits Ratko Mladic." (Additional reporting by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Ellie Tzortzi and Elizabeth Piper)

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