SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Acting on a tip, NATO soldiers raided a remote Bosnian village Thursday but failed to find Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader and the most wanted suspect of the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
The multinational force, made up of peacekeepers stationed in Bosnia, swept the area of Celebici village in the east, "to detain Radovan Karadzic," NATO said in a statement.
Although Karadzic was not found, the raid demonstrates NATO "resolve to act in apprehending by force, if necessary, persons indicted for war crimes," said a statement from SFOR, the NATO-led Bosnian Stabilization Force. The troops moved into the area on an anonymous tip that Karadzic was there, the statement added.
The SFOR statement said three "significant" weapons caches, including anti-tank rockets, grenades, mortar rounds, automatic machine guns, mines and ammunition were found during the raid.
NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia have been criticized for failing to catch Karadzic and his wartime military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic -- though peacekeepers have arrested dozens of other suspects sought by the war crimes tribunal.
NATO in the past has rarely elaborated on its moves against war crimes suspects in Bosnia. The robust language of the statement suggested it was sending a message to Karadzic and others at large that they remained targets.
Indicating a large-scale operation, Bosnian Serb TV earlier reported detonations and gunfire near the village of Celebici, some 45 miles southeast of Sarajevo, adding two NATO helicopters had landed nearby. It also said that peacekeepers were entering schools and homes in the area. Reporters in the region also spoke of explosions.
Electricity and telephones were cut off in the Celebici area, roads were blocked for a 25-mile radius around it, and residents were told not to leave their homes.
Armored vehicles had driven through Foca shortly after the start of the operation, apparently en route to Celebici to the northwest. To the west, NATO helicopters were seen leaving Mostar airport, some 50 miles from Celebici.
In Belgrade, the state Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported a "large" peacekeeping force in the region where it was "claimed earlier that Karadzic was hiding."
Karadzic and Mladic were past allies of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, now being tried by the tribunal for alleged war crimes committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
Karadzic and Mladic are charged with genocide and crimes against humanity in Bosnia during the more than three-year war that began in 1992 when the republic declared independence from Yugoslavia. The war pitted Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims against each other, but the longest and most bitter conflict was between Serbs and Muslims.
Approximately 200,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II, and more than 20,000 people are still missing and presumed dead.