Checkpoints Pose Little Threat to War Crimes Suspects


Pvt. 1st Class Len Williams has never heard of Radovan Karadzic, nor has he ever seen a photograph of the Bosnian Serb leader with the distinctive mop of gray hair.

But when told by a reporter that Karadzic is an indicted war criminal accused of genocide, Williams said he would like nothing more than for Karadzic to pull up to this frigid mountainside checkpoint and stare down the barrel of his Abrams tank.

“If he showed up here, I would want to go get him,” said Williams, who arrived here last week from Germany. “But then I have been told I can be a little arrogant.”


Williams and a dozen other American soldiers are camped here on the quieted front line, stationed at a four-tank outpost in the no man’s land that separates Bosnian Serb and Bosnian government territory.

They know nothing about war criminals, they say. The subject never came up in months of checkpoint training in Germany. But they do know about bad guys, and if Karadzic is one of them, they say they want to get him.

“Karadzic? Hmm. I think I heard of him,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Rafferty, who commands the Abrams tank that motorists first confront when approaching Gornji Bakici, a slippery 30-mile uphill trek from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. “He won’t get past here. We’ll make sure of that.”

After a week of equivocating, NATO officials may soon help soldiers make good on such bravado.

Though no change has been made to the broad “no hunt” policy applied to war criminals, NATO peacekeepers will be provided with photographs of the suspects, detailed personal descriptions and other information that might help identify the 51 individuals indicted on war crimes charges still at large should they happen upon a NATO checkpoint, officials said.

Posters of the wanted men will probably be distributed throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, a Balkan adaptation of the FBI Most Wanted lists, and their mug shots may also appear in a newspaper, published by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that circulates in Bosnia.

“This material is going to be distributed far and wide to anyone who has a likelihood of contact with these people,” said Col. John Kirkwood, a NATO spokesman in Sarajevo. “It will be moving out as soon as possible. The details are being worked out [at NATO headquarters] in Brussels right now.”

The move to step up awareness comes despite an announcement Saturday that a NATO investigation found that Karadzic was not allowed to pass undetected through NATO checkpoints, contradicting news reports last week.

NATO Brig. Gen. Julian Burns said Saturday that the investigation showed that the various routes Karadzic could have driven from his stronghold in Pale to Banja Luka, where the Bosnian Serb leader made public appearances two weeks ago, did not require passing through NATO checkpoints. He said NATO officials are confident that NATO peacekeepers did not allow Karadzic to slip through their fingers.


Humanitarian aid officials and others who travel in Bosnian Serb territory also expressed doubts that Karadzic would have crossed NATO checkpoints en route to Banja Luka.

But as the well-intentioned but uninformed soldiers working the checkpoint here vividly illustrate, he probably could have evaded capture even if he had.

“We haven’t received any list of anything like that,” said Rafferty when asked if soldiers check IDs against the names of indicted war criminals.

Williams, the first soldier to approach vehicles at the makeshift gate that halts traffic on rural Highway 18, said he would not know Karadzic, Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic or any other accused war criminals if they introduced themselves that very moment.

“What we need are those photos,” he said.