Page last updated at 07:48 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 08:48 UK

Inside the 'Hague Hilton'

By Adam LeBor

A room in the UN detention unit at The Hague (file image)

Radovan Karadzic's new home at the UN Detention Unit at The Hague is less spacious than his flat in Belgrade, where he masqueraded as a practitioner of alternative medicine until his arrest last month.

But it is far more comfortable than any prison in the Balkans, and incomparably better than the concentration camps the Bosnian Serbs set up across Bosnia in the summer of 1992.

Mr Karadzic has his own cell, around 15 sq-m.

It is light, with a large barred window, a curtain and a blind.

He sleeps on a metal bed with a mattress, and has plenty of clean sheets, towels and bed-clothes.

Almost normal

The cell is furnished with beige laminated cupboards and shelves, a television, aluminium sink and toilet.

A large green chalkboard covers much of one wall and there is an intercom to call prison staff.

Radovan Karadzic appears at The Hague, 31 July 2008
The room will be very different to the Belgrade flat where Mr Karadzic hid

Some have sarcastically dubbed the unit the "Hague Hilton".

But UN officials stress that it is not a prison and that there is a presumption of innocence until a verdict is delivered.

The conditions are intended to allow the 37 inmates to maintain as normal a life as possible while being held.

Once sentenced, inmates are transferred to prisons abroad.

Inmates attending court hearings are woken early, as the first sessions starts at 0830.

Otherwise they are free to spend their mornings in each floor's communal area.

They may watch cable television from the former Yugoslavia, or read local language newspapers.

Conjugal visits

Inmates are locked up again at lunchtime while staff change shifts and are then released for the afternoon.

There are plenty of opportunities for occupational therapy, such as English lessons or computer skills, although detainees do not have access to the internet.

Other classes include ceramics, where they learn how to make vases, commemorative plates and ashtrays.

The unit has a well-equipped gym and team sports are popular.

It is ironic that the leaders of the former Yugoslav nations took their countrymen to war, but live together quite peacefully behind bars

However, there are no ethnically based teams.

All detainees are allowed an hour a day outside in the fresh air. Many inmates find it difficult to cope with transition from warlord to detainee.

Most are middle-aged or older and some are in poor health when they arrive.

Others suffer from psychological problems. Medical care and counselling is provided and Catholic and Orthodox priests and an Imam visit regularly.

Inmates can also receive conjugal visits, and at least one inmate has conceived a son in the unit.

Predrag Banovic, a former guard at the Keraterm concentration camp, married in the unit, while former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic served as his best man.

UN insiders say there is almost no ethnic tension inside the unit.

It is ironic that the leaders of the former Yugoslav nations took their countrymen to war, but live together quite peacefully behind bars.

'No special treatment'

"It's very important that there is a social mix. We make sure that the politicians, soldiers, officers and civil servants are all mixed up, which also keeps things open," said a UN source.

A room in the UN detention unit at The Hague
Sparse but clean, no shortage of sheets but no internet access

"The atmosphere at the unit is very convivial and peaceful. Irrespective of their ages, or their problems, they look out for each other as a group. They keep food for each other if someone is going to be late.

They take time off from studying their cases, and play cards together."

Despite the tribunal's efforts, several inmates have died in their cells.

Slobodan Milosevic died in March 2006. Milan Babic, the former leader of the rebel Serbs in Croatia, hanged himself in the same month.

No special preparations were made for the arrival of Radovan Karadzic.

"He will be treated the same as any other detainee, with the same rights to use the centre's facilities and the same obligations," said Nerma Jelacic, the Tribunal spokeswoman.

"The tribunal will ensure his wellbeing and his right to a fair trial at the highest international standards."

Adam LeBor is the author of Complicity with Evil: The United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide.

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