NEW YORK – Standing with Slobodan Milosevic 13 years ago on the veranda of a government hunting lodge outside Belgrade, I saw two men in the distance. They left their twin Mercedes and, in fading light, started toward us. I felt a jolt go through my body; they were unmistakable. Ratko Mladic, in combat fatigues, stocky, walking as though through a muddy field; and Radovan Karadzic, taller, wearing a suit, with his wild, but carefully coiffed, shock of white hair.
The capture of Karadzic and his arrival at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague took me back to a long night of confrontation, drama, and negotiations – the only time I ever met him. It was 5 p.m. on September 13, 1995, during the height of the war in Bosnia. After years of weak Western and United Nations response to Serb aggression and ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia, United States-led NATO bombing had put the Serbs on the defensive. Our small diplomatic negotiating team was trying to end a war that had taken the lives of nearly 300,000 people.
Milosevic, Mladic, and Karadzic were the primary reason for that war. Mladic and Karadzic had already been indicted as war criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. (Milosevic was not to be indicted until 1999.)
In a change of strategy, the negotiating team had decided to marginalize Karadzic and Mladic and to force Milosevic, as the senior Serb in the region, to take responsibility for the war and for the negotiations that we hoped would end it. Now Milosevic wanted to bring the two men back into the discussions, probably to take some of the pressure off of himself.