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Talks held on ways to capture Bosnian Serb leader

July 6, 1997
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- "High-level discussions" are under way about possible plans for capturing Bosnia Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and other war crimes suspects, Pentagon sources said Sunday.

But U.S. officials deny there is any current plan for "snatch mission" to nab Karadzic or former Serb military leader Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both men have been indicted by an international war crimes tribunal, which wants to try them for atrocities committed during Bosnia-Herzegovina's 3 1/2-year civil war.

An 'impediment to peace'

Responding to a report in the Los Angeles Times, a senior U.S. Defense official said there is no plan to arrest Karadzic. But the official did say that because Karadzic is seen as an "impediment to peace," there have been recent discussions among U.S officials about finding new ways to bring him to justice at the international tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.

Karadzic is currently embroiled in a power struggle with Biljana Plavic, who succeeded him as Bosnian Serb president.

Many observers believe that if Karadzic is able to consolidate his power, Bosnian Serbs will be more likely to revive their dream of merging their territory with Serbia.

Observers say a stalemate would split the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska both geographically and politically between Plavsic's northwest and Karadzic's east, making it harder for international officials to deal with the Serbs. It could also lead to intra-Serb fighting.

'We need to weigh the pros and cons'

The fragile peace is also threatened by the fact that several accused war criminals remain at large, said Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I would tell you that war criminals have been recognized from the very beginning as being a great impediment to the Dayton (peace) agreement," Shalikashvili said on Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition" with Frank Sesno.

"And so, it is terribly important that a way be found to apprehend these war criminals and bring them to justice."

But, he added, "We understand very well the down side to going after war criminals. And so we need to weigh the pros and the cons."

NATO troops have limited role

Sources insist there is no plan to use NATO peacekeepers in any sort of arrest mission, but officials have not ruled out a military force of other troops to capture Karadzic.

Currently, NATO peacekeepers are authorized to capture alleged war criminals only if they "encounter" them in the course of normal patrols and if the apprehension can be done safely. They are not authorized to pursue suspected war criminals, conduct manhunts or arrest suspects in situations that might lead to heavy casualties.

NATO and the United States repeatedly have said the arrest of accused war criminals is not and will not become a mission for the international Stabilization Force in Bosnia. They say making arrests is a job for police, not the military.

The United States has pushed for creation of an international police force that might be used to pursue alleged war criminals, but so far no international consensus has formed on that.

Pentagon sources say there are some senior U.S. military officers who believe a "snatch" mission to arrest Mladic and Karadzic could be accomplished with no bloodshed, if political leaders could agree to give the order.

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