Karadzic Out, But Still a Free Man

BELGRADE -- Radovan Karadzic, the psychiatrist-poet turned nationalist politician, yielded Friday to international pressure to step down from all functions in Bosnian Serb politics.

His signed statement cleared the way for Bosnia's September elections and marked a new triumph for U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who brokered last year's Bosnian peace accord.

But it will not put Karadzic where the world says he belongs -- before the UN war crimes tribunal -- in part because Karadzic's testimony would implicate Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and thus remove one pillar of Holbrooke's efforts to build peace.

After 10 hours' overnight haggling in Belgrade, Holbrooke distributed a statement signed by Karadzic, senior Bosnian Serbs, Milosevic and his foreign minister announcing Karadzic was out.

Karadzic "states that he shall withdraw immediately and permanently from all political activities,'' it said. "He will not appear in public, or on radio or television or other media or means of communication, or participate in any the old Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1990.

"He knew he was signing the end of his political career,'' Holbrooke said.

But a world burned in the past by broken Balkan promises was wary, stressing the need to try Karadzic, indicted twice for war crimes and genocide by the UN tribunal in The Hague.

Holbrooke, whose tough negotiating style clearly has won him some respect from Milosevic, made sure that Plavsic, Buha and another top Bosnian Serbs signed the statement at the posh, secluded Belgrade villa where the talks were held.

Karadzic signed it in his Pale stronghold, in the presence of a witness with whom Holbrooke talked later. The witness was thought to be Milosevic's top security aide, Jovica Stanisic.

"There is no question the signatures are correct,'' Holbrooke said. "This is an important statement. If it's implemented strictly, it increases significantly chances of successful elections.''

But, he stressed, "we are not satisfied ... It falls short of our goals'' because Karadzic remains in Bosnia.

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, whose alliance heads the forces implementing peace in Bosnia, noted that "an important obstacle has been removed'' for elections, but "justice remains to be done.''

At the tribunal, spokesman Christian Chartier called Friday's move "the first step on a longer road which must lead the accused to The Hague.''

Robert Frowick, the American heading the international mission that will organize Bosnia's elections, cautiously termed Karadzic's removal "a potentially major step forward.''

Frowick delayed the start of campaigning from Monday to Friday to get Karadzic out. Bosnia's Moslems had threatened to boycott the elections if Karadzic remained head of the Serbs' ruling party, while the Serbs were to boycott if Frowick banned the party from elections because it was headed by an indicted war crimes suspect.

Karadzic's potential to influence remains. Western diplomats and aid officials said Friday that Bosnian Serb authorities were denying Serb refugees international aid unless they register to vote in Serb-held areas.

Under election rules, refugees may register in areas where they used to or want to live, which may now be controlled by the Moslem-Croat federation that has 51 percent of Bosnia.

The Bosnian Serb Red Cross, which distributes aid, is headed by Karadzic's wife Ljiljana.

Western diplomats also have accused Bosnia's Moslem-led government of shifting 17,000 supporters to former Serb-held areas of Sarajevo to bolster its vote there.

Holbrooke, who quit diplomacy in February to return to investment banking, was called back to salvage the peace process after Carl Bildt, the senior international official implementing it, failed to insist that Karadzic quit his party as well as his presidential post.

Because Milosevic remains so powerful on the Serb side, Holbrooke may never achieve the goal of trying Karadzic and his military commander, General Ratko Mladic, for alleged war crimes.

Karadzic is thought certain to implicate Milosevic in the planning and execution of the brutal Serb land grab that marked the first months of Bosnia's 3 1/2-year civil war. If Milosevic were then indicted for alleged war crimes, the Serbs would break off the peace process of which he is a key part.

Holbrooke seemed aware of the contradiction as he noted how long it takes to end Bosnia's conflict. "The peace process is a very long and bumpy road,'' he said.