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Saturday, 14 December, 2002, 05:45 GMT
Mrs Karadzic: A Bosnian paradox
Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic

To outside observers, it may come as a surprise to note that the Bosnian Serb Red Cross was, until Thursday, headed by the wife of Europe's most notorious fugitive, Radovan Karadzic.

Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic resigned from her post on Thursday, saying she had been pressured into doing so by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

She accused the ICRC of "the clearest violation of human rights, something the Red Cross is supposed to uphold".

Mrs Karadzic's husband, Radovan, is under indictment for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The wartime president of the Bosnian Serbs, he has been on the run since 1996.

Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic has been on the run for years

Mrs Karadzic was head of the Bosnian Serb Red Cross for nearly 10 years, from 1993.

It was a source of ongoing embarrassment for the ICRC: under the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the war in 1995, the ICRC is mandated as the lead agency in the search for missing persons.

Around 200,000 people were killed during the war. Between 20,000 and 30,000 are still missing, presumed dead.

It did not inspire great confidence among the families of the missing, especially the non-Serbs, to have Mrs Karadzic in charge of the agency responsible for tracing their relatives.

Bosnian paradox

And that is the paradox of post-war Bosnia.

On the one hand, reconstruction has progressed further than many observers would have thought possible in 1995.

The shelling has stopped. But more than that, the country functions - after a fashion.

The phones work; there is electricity and running water in most places, most of the time. There are cafes and markets and shops.

The latest figures from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, show that more than 900,000 refugees and displaced persons have returned to their pre-war homes since 1996.

On the other hand, many of them may not stay. The economy is spiralling steadily downwards, as aid is cut back and local businesses fail to pick up the slack.

Politically, the outlook is not encouraging.

In October's elections, nationalist parties won all three seats - Muslim, Croat and Serb - on the tripartite state presidency.

In the Muslim-Croat federation, a coalition of the two main nationalist parties is likely to form the backbone of the next government.

In Republika Srpska, Mr Karadzic's old party, the SDS (Serbian Democratic Party), remains the largest single party, although its overall share of the vote was sharply reduced.

Among Bosnian Serbs, Mr Karadzic himself remains popular.

There is little sense that he is responsible for the deaths and displacements of hundreds of thousands of people.

War hangover

Which is why Mrs Karadzic remained for so long in charge of the Bosnian Serb Red Cross.

The structure of the Red Cross in Bosnia mirrors the country's political set-up.

There are separate societies for the Federation and the Republika Srpska, linked by a state-level organisation.

The state-level organisation was only created about two years ago. Even that was a major achievement for the Red Cross.

It is just one example of the difficulties of putting a country back together after it has been torn apart.

Seven years have passed since the war ended, but too many reminders remain.


At The Hague

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05 Jul 01 | Europe
06 Jul 01 | Europe
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