BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro — In an effort to tighten the noose around fugitive war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, the international administrator of Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday fired 60 Bosnian Serb officials for failing to arrest their onetime leader.
But Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men, continued to elude capture, as he has for nearly a decade.
Paddy Ashdown, the international envoy in charge of postwar Bosnia, took the unusual punitive step of firing a raft of "corrupt politicians and criminals" who he said had controlled Bosnian Serbs for too long and had created a "climate of secrecy and impunity" that allowed war crimes suspects to roam free. Those dismissed include top officials such as Dragan Kalinic, the speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament and leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, which Karadzic founded.
Kalinic scoffed at the action, announced by Ashdown at a news conference in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital.
"Many are powerless when faced with the fact that Radovan Karadzic is guarded by God and the angels," Kalinic said.
Karadzic led the Bosnian Serbs through 3 1/2 years of war, part of the conflict that ripped apart the former Yugoslav federation, leaving more than a quarter of a million people dead in Bosnia, most of them Muslims. It was Europe's deadliest strife since World War II. The international war crimes tribunal in The Hague has twice indicted Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic, on charges of genocide.
Both have remained at large, helped by hard-line nationalists to whom they are heroes.
On Tuesday, the lead Hague prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said at the United Nations that she was confident Karadzic would be arrested soon.
The steps taken Wednesday were aimed at substantially reducing Karadzic's ability to maneuver and hide by crippling his support network. In addition to sacking politicians, mayors, police officers and the Bosnian Serbs' interior minister, Ashdown slapped travel bans on many of the same people, withheld more than $500,000 from Kalinic's party and announced an overhaul of the Bosnian Serb police force, which has not arrested a single war crimes suspect despite an obligation under peace accords to do so.
"The Republika Srpska has been in the grip of a small band of corrupt politicians and criminals for far too long," Ashdown said.
Republika Srpska is one of the autonomous halves that make up Bosnia. It and neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, the two-republic nation that represents what's left of Yugoslavia, are coming under increased pressure to arrest suspected war criminals. Failure to do so is costing both Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro closer economic and security ties with Europe, diplomats say.
They are the only European states that are not members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's Partnership for Peace program and failed to win an invitation to the club at this week's NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey. Officials of the Atlantic alliance cited the Serbs' less-than-enthusiastic cooperation with the Hague tribunal.
However, in Belgrade, the capital of both Serbia and Serbia and Montenegro, the newly elected president of Serbia, Boris Tadic, appeared to signal a shift in attitude Wednesday. He urged the police in Serbia to make an aggressive effort to find Mladic and show the world that the country was indeed attempting to meet its international obligations.
Although Karadzic is thought to be hiding in southeastern Bosnia, Mladic may be in Serbia.
Times staff writer Wilkinson reported from Rome and special correspondent Cirjakovic from Belgrade.