WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The former U.S. peace mediator for Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, on Thursday dismissed a claim by Radovan Karadzic that the United States had offered a deal that would spare him prosecution for war crimes.
The former Bosnian Serb leader, who was arrested last week after 11 years on the run, appeared before a U.N. war crimes judge in The Hague for the first time to answer genocide charges for his role in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.
He told the court he had received an offer from Holbrooke on behalf of the U.S. government under which Karadzic would withdraw from public life and take other steps and Washington would persuade prosecutors to drop the indictment against him.
Holbrooke, reached by telephone by Reuters in Washington, said there was “zero” truth to claims of a deal with Karadzic.
“This is an old charge that Karadzic started in 1996,” he said. “Such a deal would have been immoral and unethical … It obviously didn’t happen.”
The U.S. State Department also denied Karadzic’s claim.
“Ambassador Holbrooke and we have repeatedly made clear that no agreement was ever made in which Radovan Karadzic was provided immunity from prosecution or arrest,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a written statement,
Holbrooke said that, as a private citizen and special envoy of President Bill Clinton, he negotiated Karadzic’s departure from office with then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
“And in order to explain this to his own people, he put the story out then, and he has embroidered it over 12 years, but there is zero truth to it. I have testified to that account,” Holbrooke said.
The former U.S. diplomat also laughed off an attack by the 63-year-old Karadzic, who said: “If Holbrooke still wants my death and regrets there is no death sentence at this court, I want to know if his arm is long enough to reach me here.”
Karadzic appeared to have misremembered a comment he had once made, said Holbrooke.
“What I said was that I know that The Hague does not have a death penalty, but if anybody deserves the death penalty, it’s Radovan Karadzic because he was responsible, directly or indirectly, for 300,000 deaths,” Holbrooke told Reuters.
“So if he is still afraid of me while he is in a well-padded cell in The Hague, I guess that’s an indirect compliment in a way,” added Holbrooke, who was the architect of the deal that ended the Bosnian war.