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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 15:58 GMT
The race to catch Karadzic
Wanted posters for Karadzic (right) and fellow suspect Ratko Mladic
The US is pushing to wind up Bosnian operations
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By the BBC's Bill Hayton

The former Bosnian Serb president and war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic appears to have eluded a second Nato-led operation to arrest him in two days.

But in spite of this apparent setback, Nato is clearly determined to apprehend him and transfer him to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague.

Former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic
Karadzic's brother said he was "fine"

By all accounts, this is a large, well-planned and ongoing operation.

The initial failure to find Mr Karadzic was disappointing for the Nato-led force - but they would not have launched such a public show of force without being reasonably sure they had good intelligence information.

Operations of this type are extremely difficult and the risk of casualties, both to the arresting troops and to civilian bystanders, is very high.

Previous attempts

This is not the first attempt to arrest the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs.

There have been rumours of at least three previous efforts, and it is likely that several more planned operations have been called off.

Bosnian Serb woman shows the door of her flat, damaged in the search for Karadzic
A massive operation failed to trap the Bosnian Serbs' ex-leader

Last July British special forces were said to have encircled him and were waiting to carry out an arrest.

A mysterious report that he had been arrested last month was later thought to have been an intelligence-gathering exercise to see if associates would try to contact Mr Karadzic and reveal his position.

There have been suggestions that Thursday's operation, too, might have been a precursor to a longer mission.

It took place across a very large area, some 40 kilometres wide, in a mountainous region known for its support of Mr Karadzic and at a time when the ground is covered with snow.

Its chances of success seem small - so perhaps it was another way for Nato forces to gather intelligence and see how Mr Karadzic's bodyguards would react?

But it shows a clear increase in the determination of the international community to bring Mr Karadzic to justice.

New determination

In the years immediately after the end of the Bosnian war they seemed quite reluctant to arrest war crimes suspects.

Some of them lived almost openly close to areas controlled by Nato peacekeepers - in fact some French troops actually rented accommodation from a war crimes suspect.

Many people in the international community feel embarrassed that with 18,000 troops in Bosnia they have not been able to finish the job

But from about the middle of 1997 - partly inspired perhaps by the election of the Blair government in Britain - Nato seemed to gain a new political resolve on the issue.

The arrest rate began to rise as special forces troops began to pick up those who had been accused by the international tribunal.

Now the situation seems to be getting more urgent for several reasons.

Many people in the international community - both civilian and military - just want to be rid of the issue and see the last suspects arrested.

They feel embarrassed that with 18,000 troops in Bosnia they have not been able to finish the job.

Ever since 11 September, Bosnia has been crawling with intelligence operatives and they must have gathered a wealth of information.

At the back of their minds is the United States' wish to pull its troops out of Bosnia and there's a similar feeling that the international tribunal itself should start to wind down its activities.

The Bush administration on Thursday called for it to end its work by 2008 at the latest.

Neither move is politically possible until people like Mr Karadzic are detained and tried.

Bosnia's continuing divisions

Closer to hand, several other deadlines are approaching.

The Republika Srpska is being pressed to introduce some significant constitutional reforms - which will effectively give equal rights to Croats and Muslims within its territory.

Bosnian Muslim soldier returns fire from Bosnian Serb forces during civil war in Sarajevo
Wartime divisions persist in Bosnia
These have to be enacted by the end of March if elections are to go ahead as planned later in the year.

Removing hardline nationalists such as Mr Karadzic, who still wields tremendous influence, from the political scene would help to undermine opposition to the plan.

Friday is the 10th anniversary of Bosnia's declaration of independence, the announcement which effectively triggered its civil war.

Both halves of the country - the Muslim-Croat federation and the Republika Srpska - are now controlled by non-nationalist governments, but the population still seems more or less evenly divided between supporters of the wartime parties and those who want to put the attitudes of the past behind them.

This latest operation is likely to antagonise nationalists on the Serb side, but it may also remind them of the international community's impatience and desire to draw a clear line under the tragedy of the early 1990s and move forward.

See also:

01 Mar 02 | Europe
Where are Karadzic and Mladic?
01 Mar 02 | Europe
Karadzic slips Nato net again
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