Close, But No Karadzic; Accused War Criminal Still at Large

A reported sighting in Panama of one of the most wanted men in the world, accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic, the former Serbian political leader, led to a four-nation police scramble and a raid on the homes of his son and daughter last week by NATO troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the end, it produced nothing more than another frustration for the authorities who have been seeking Karadzic since 1995 on war crimes charges involving the murders and rapes of thousands of Muslim civilians and the shelling of the city of Sarajevo.

There is intense pressure to capture Karadzic, who could escape prosecution if he is not in custody by the time the war crimes tribunal expires in 2010.

Click Here for Photos of Radovan Karadzic and the Acts of Genocide of Which He Is Accused.

"That would absolutely be a disaster for justice," said Carla Del Ponte, the war crimes tribunal prosecutor in the Hague in the Netherlands. 

Law enforcement authorities tell ABC News the international scramble began last week when an American, who had been in Bosnia during the war, reported seeing a man he thought was Karadzic in the lobby of a hotel in Panama City, Panama.


At the request of the FBI representative in Panama, the man was taken in for questioning by Panamanian authorities.

The man reportedly told authorities he was an honest businessman from Serbia living in South Toronto, Canada with landed immigrant status.

But authorities suspected he might have had plastic surgery, and at one point Canadian authorities reported they were "95 percent certain it was Karadzic," based on a comparison with an old photo.      On Feb. 19, authorities then asked NATO troops to raid the homes of Karadzic's son and daughter in Bosnia-Herzegovina to obtain a toothbrush or other items that might provide DNA samples.

Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.

But this week law enforcement authorities told ABC News that police in Canada had concluded the man was not Karadzic.

Prosecutor Del Ponte told ABC News it was just the latest in a series of false alarms. She believes he continues to hide in Serbia.

"All the information we have with my tracking team and with intelligence services is that Karadzic is there and really I cannot find a reason why he would quit the region," Del Ponte told ABC News.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for the capture of the Karadzic, but the prosecutor says she is concerned U.S. diplomats are not doing all they can to pressure Serbia to find him.

"I would like to have more presence from the United States on this issue," she said.

A State Department sokesperson told ABC News today, "The United States wants to see Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and all fugitive persons indicted for war crimes transferred to The Hague as soon as possible."

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