Confirmation of Karadžić-Holbrooke deal?

NEW YORK, PARIS -- A study confirms that an American official promised Radovan Karadžić that he would have immunity from the Hague Tribunal, according to the New York Times.

According to the daily, U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke denied on several occasions that he promised Karadžić immunity in exchange for stepped down from power and exiting the political stage.

But the rumor persists, and different versions have recently emerged that line up with Karadžić’s assertion, including a new historical study of the Yugoslav wars published by Purdue University in Indiana, the Times stated.

“Charles W. Ingrao, the study’s co-editor, said that three senior State Department officials, one of them retired, and several other people with knowledge of Holbrooke’s activities told him that Holbrooke assured Karadžić in July 1996 that he would not be pursued by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague if he left politics” the daily writes.

The Purdue University study, “Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies: A Scholars’ Initiative,” says that Holbrooke “instructed his principal assistant, Christopher Hill, to draft the memorandum to be signed by Karadžić,” committing him to give up power.

Holbrooke, who brokered the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995, returned to Belgrade in 1996 to press Karadžić to resign as president of the Bosnian Serb republic (RS).

Ingrao told the Times that Holbrooke used Slobodan Milošević and other Serbian officials as intermediaries to convey the promise of immunity and to reach the deal with Karadžić.

In an interview, the former State Department official, who had access to confidential reports and to members of the Holbrooke team, said that during that evening in 1996, Milošević and other Serbian officials were on the phone with Karadžić, who was in Pale, Bosnia.

The former official said that Karadžić wanted written assurances that he would not be pursued for war crimes and refused to sign without them.

“Holbrooke told the Serbs, ‘You can give him my word he won’t be pursued,’ but Holbrooke refused to sign anything,” the official said. Holbrooke could make that promise because he knew that American and other Western militaries in Bosnia were not then making arrests, the official said.

In the brief statement Karadžić eventually signed, he agreed to withdraw “from all political activities” and to step down from office. It carried the signatures Milošević and four other Serbian leaders acting as witnesses and guarantors. It did not include any Americans’ names and made no mention of immunity, writes the daily.

The American who was involved in peacekeeping insisted in an interview that Holbrooke himself told him that he had made a deal with Karadžić to get him to leave politics. He recalled meeting Holbrooke in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on the eve of Bosnian elections in November 2000, just after Milošević had finally been ousted from power in Serbia.

Holbrooke was worried about the outcome of the Bosnian vote because he knew that Karadžić was still secretly running his nationalist political party and picking candidates, including mayors and police chiefs who had run prison camps and organized massacres.

“Holbrooke was angry; he was ranting,” the American recalled. He quoted Holbrooke as saying: “That son of a bitch Karadžić. I made a deal with him that if he’d pull out of politics, we wouldn’t go after him. He’s broken that deal and now we’re going to get him.”

Karadžić’s party won those elections in the Bosnian Serb republic. Shortly afterward, he disappeared from public view.

Asked for comment for this article, Holbrooke repeated his denial in a written statement. “No one in the U.S. government ever promised anything, nor made a deal of any sort with Karadžić,” he said to the daily, noting that Karadžić stepped down in the summer of 1996 under intense American pressure.

“In subsequent meetings, as a private citizen, I repeatedly urged officials in both the Clinton and Bush administrations to capture Karadžić,” Holbrooke said. “I am glad he has finally been brought to justice, even though he uses his public platform to disseminate these fabrications.”

In December, tribunal judges ruled that even if a deal had been made, it would have no bearing on a trial. They said no immunity agreement would be valid before an international tribunal in a case of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. Karadžić is charged with all three.

A State Department spokesman told the Times that the government was cooperating with the tribunal, but would provide no further details.