Radovan Karadzic relinquished his duties Sunday as president of the Bosnian Serbs, but stopped short of offering the unconditional resignation demanded by the West.
The gesture came just before today’s deadline for economic sanctions to be reimposed against the Serbs and seemed certain to throw the international community into turmoil over its next move in the long-running chess game to oust Karadzic.
From Washington to Paris, world leaders have demanded that Karadzic retire from public life and turn himself over to a U.N. criminal tribunal at the Hague, Netherlands, to stand trial for war crimes.
Confusion reigned Sunday in diplomatic circles over the significance of Karadzic’s gesture.
In the morning, Carl Bildt, the United Nations’ chief diplomat in Bosnia, triumphantly announced he had obtained a signed letter that Karadzic had resigned entirely. But within hours, Karadzic’s supposed successor, Vice President Biljana Plavsic, released her own statement saying she was merely taking over Karadzic’s presidential duties because of his “temporary inability” to carry out his functions.
“The people elected Karadzic by legal means and he remains president,” the statement read.
Karadzic, a 51-year-old psychiatrist, is the world’s most notorious international outlaw, widely blamed for inciting the deadliest fighting in Europe since World War II. President Clinton has called repeatedly for Karadzic’s removal, but has stopped short of ordering the 20,000 U.S. troops deployed in NATO’s Bosnia mission to arrest him.
For months, diplomatic negotiations have taken place at the highest level to ease Karadzic off the political stage, but each time these efforts have ended in embarrassment for the international community. Karadzic has alternatively announced that he is resigning or else running again for political office, releasing deliberately contradictory statements to keep Western diplomats a few paces behind.
“Karadzic is a nightmare,” said Michael Steiner, a senior U.N. official closely involved in the negotiations. “It is the same never-ending story.”
In Washington, Anthony Lake, Clinton’s national security adviser, reacted cautiously to reports that Karadzic had stepped down.
“That’s not enough. We want him out of the country,” Lake told CBS. He said U.S. forces were increasing patrols in the region along with the French and “we will arrest him on sight.”
The concessions offered Sunday appear to be an attempt by the Serbs to stave off the reinstatement of U.N. economic sanctions. Last week, Bildt had said he would request the reinstatement of U.N. economic sanctions against the Serbs if Karadzic was not out by Monday. The ultimatum was endorsed during the weekend at a summit of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies in Lyon, France.
In the Bosnian Serb capital of Pale, a government spokesman denied that there was any deliberate attempt at deception in the confusing developments. He said Karadzic had simply informed Bildt that he was exercising a constitutional provision allowing the vice president to assume presidential duties in the event the president is “temporarily unable.”
“It is up to you how to interpret that,” the spokesman added.
In recent months, Karadzic has made few public appearances, rarely venturing out of his well-guarded compound in Pale for fear of being picked up by NATO troops. He has been reporting to the presidential offices only about once a week, varying his routine to avoid detection, according to police sources in Pale.
Nevertheless, the Serb political machine has rallied to the defense of their beleaguered leader. On Friday, he was re-elected president of the Serb Democratic Party by 353 of 354 possible votes.
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