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Radovan Karadzic led Bosnian Serbs as the former Yugoslavia was carved up. ((Canadian Press))

Radovan Karadzic, one of the world's most wanted men, has been arrested in Serbia after hiding from a United National war crimes tribunal for nearly 13 years.

Karadzic, the wartime leader of Bosnian Serbs, is accused of genocide, complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts and other crimes against Muslim, Croat and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war.

The most notorious charge involves the killing of as many as 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995.

The CBC's Nancy Durham, reporting from London, said Karadzic, 63, may not have invented the term ethnic cleansing but his name became synonymous with it as the former Yugoslavia was carved up. Tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats were displaced or killed in a bid to create a greater Serbia.

Karadzic's arrest sparked celebrations in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, whose people endured a 3½-year siege in which shells rained down on city markets and snipers killed civilians from the hills above.

'These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history.'— UN tribunal judge Fouad Riad

It was also welcomed by survivors of the Bosnia conflict living in Canada, such as Sanela Dupanovic, who lost her father in the war. "I hope they're going to bring justice, that's all I can say. I hope he suffers," she told CBC News.

The arrest was announced on Serbian television Monday and confirmed by a United Nations war crimes prosecutor.

"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade," said Serge Brammertz, prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a court established by the UN Security Council in 1993 and based in The Hague.

"It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that sooner or later all fugitives will be brought to justice," he said in a statement on Monday.

Mladic remains at large

Serbia had long been criticized for failing to track down and arrest Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Ratko Mladic, who remains at large.

In Belgrade, the office of Serbian President Boris Tadic issued a statement saying Karadzic was arrested Monday "in an action by the Serbian security services," the Associated Press reported.

Brammertz, the prosecutor, congratulated Serbia "on achieving this milestone in co-operation" with the tribunal. A date had yet to be set for Karadzic's transfer to the tribunal, he said.

The arrest comes after the formation of a pro-Western government in Serbia, a leadership that wants to make the country part of a greater Europe.

Lewis MacKenzie, a retired Canadian major general who led a UN contingent in Sarajevo, saw it as a sign of progress toward that goal.

"I think we all know that one of the prerequisites for Serbia joining the European Union is turning over Mr. Karadzic and Gen. Mladic," he told CBC News. "Well, this is 50 per cent of the requirement."

The indictment faced by Karadzic says he and others set out to gain control of areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina that had been proclaimed part of a Serbian republic and significantly reduce its non-Serb population. It says to achieve this, they committed grave crimes to force non-Serbs to leave those areas, to expel those who were reluctant to leave and to kill others, the document says.

'Unimaginable savagery'

Referring to the Srebrenica massacre, a tribunal judge, Fouad Riad, said in 1995:

"The evidence tendered by the prosecutor describes scenes of unimaginable savagery: thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers’ eyes, a grandfather forced to eat the liver of his own grandson. These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history".

The charges against Karadzic and Mladic include:

  • "They are criminally responsible for the unlawful confinement, murder, rape, sexual assault, torture, beating, robbery and inhumane treatment of civilians; the targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and professionals; the unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians; the unlawful shelling of civilians; the unlawful appropriation and plunder of real and personal property; the destruction of homes and businesses; and the destruction of places of worship."
  • "Thousands of Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat civilians, including women, children and elderly persons, were detained … for protracted periods of time. They were not afforded judicial process and their internment was not justified by military necessity. They were detained, in large measure, because of their national, religious and political identity. The conditions in the detention facilities were inhumane and brutal."
  • "In many instances, women and girls who were detained were raped at the camps or taken from the detention centres and raped or otherwise sexually abused at other locations. Daily food rations provided to detainees were inadequate and often amounted to starvation rations. Medical care for the detainees was insufficient or nonexistent and the general hygienic conditions were grossly inadequate."
  • "Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, individually and in concert with others, planned, instigated, ordered or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of unlawful attacks against the civilian population and individual civilians with weapons such as mortars, rockets and artillery."
  • "Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, individually and in concert with others, planned, instigated, ordered or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of the destruction of sacred sites or knew or had reason to know that subordinates were about to damage or destroy these sites or had done so and failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent them from doing so or to punish the perpetrators thereof."
  •  "Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, individually and in concert with others, planned, instigated, ordered or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of the taking of civilians, that is UN peacekeepers, as hostages and, additionally, using them as 'human shields.'"

Karadzic, who had topped the tribunal's most-wanted list for more than a decade, was said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities.

His reported hideouts included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his trademark mane and donning a brown cassock.

With files from the Associated Press