BELGRADE (Reuters) – Hardline nationalists gathered to show their support for war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic on Tuesday, while Serbian authorities and his legal team played a cat-and-mouse game over his extradition.
The leader of the Bosnian Serbs in the 1992-95 Bosnia war, who is indicted for genocide, was arrested last week in Serbia. He had been on the run for 11 years, most recently living under an assumed name as a bearded, long-haired alternative healer.
He is now in a Belgrade prison awaiting transfer to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Hardliners see him as a hero, a defender of the Serb nation. Several thousand had gathered in downtown Belgrade for a rally due to start at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). The atmosphere was calm, with hundreds of riot policemen deployed around the capital.
“This rally will be a symbol of resistance, a symbol of the strength of those who love freedom more than anything,” said Aleksandar Vucic of the nationalist Radical Party, one of the strongest parties in Serbia.
“We’ll continue resisting dictatorship in Serbia, we’ll continue raising the question of whose paramilitary forces arrested Radovan Karadzic, how and why.”
Karadzic, with his military chief Ratko Mladic, is indicted for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica and the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, where more than 11,000 people died from shelling, sniper fire, malnutrition and illness.
His delivery to The Hague is key to Serbia’s closer ties with the European Union, and his arrest was seen as a clear pro-Western signal by the new government, sworn in earlier this month.
Belgrade is now keen to send him to The Hague as soon as possible to avoid simmering tension and protracted protests by nationalists, but also to unlock coveted EU trade benefits.
The EU postponed a decision on the trade deal on Tuesday, with diplomats saying they would wait for Karadzic’s transfer.
Sources say the government is ready to approve his extradition, but the timing of the actual transfer partly depends on an appeal filed by Karadzic’s lawyer last week.
Serbian officials say it is a gesture with no chance of success, but it nevertheless frustrates an extradition process burdened by unclear deadlines and tussles over legal detail.
“The law is not specific on how long the court should wait (for the appeal to arrive),” Svetozar Vujacic, Karadzic’s lawyer in Serbia, said on Tuesday.
“It is also not written in the law where the appeal may be sent from. Widely interpreted, it could be from Sydney, although of course I did not actually send it from Sydney.”
He said he may have sent the appeal letter from Bosnia, and expected it to arrive in Belgrade “in 7 days at the earliest.”
A spokeswoman at Belgrade’s district court said the appeal document had still not arrived by the end of the court’s working day on Tuesday afternoon.
The court had not yet decided whether it would wait longer for the document, or rule that the deadline had passed, and go ahead with the extradition, she added.
Sources in the security services say there are dozens of options for an unobtrusive transfer of Karadzic to The Hague, involving disguised vehicles, secret exits, dawn transfers or decoy motorcades to fool the television crews staking out the prison, court and airport.
The lawyer has said Karadzic is in good spirits and preparing for his defence. He has already had two suits delivered for his court appearance, one light, one dark.