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Mr. Karadzic’s reported hide-outs included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself by shaving off his trademark silver shock of hair and donning a priest’s brown cassock.

Unofficial accounts from Belgrade say Mr. Karadzic was arrested in the Serbian capital and offered no resistance when apprehended. He was undergoing a formal identification process and was being turned over to international investigators for questioning.

Government sources said Mr. Karadzic had been under surveillance for several weeks, after a tip-off from an unnamed foreign intelligence service.

Mr. Holbrooke said it was not clear whether Belgrade would attempt to try Mr. Karadzic in its national courts or send him along to The Hague to face genocide and other charges.

Serbian officials sent Mr. Milosevic to The Hague court, but he died before his lengthy war-crimes trial could be decided.

News agencies reported that reports of Mr. Karadzic’s arrest set off street celebrations in Sarajevo and other Bosnian towns that bore the brunt of the ethnic wars. Cars streamed through the streets blaring their horns, while Bosnian state radio was playing excerpts of Mr. Karadzic’s old bombastic speeches dating from the 1992-95 war.

“This is the best thing that could ever happen. You see people celebrating everywhere. … I called and woke up my whole family,” Sarajevo resident Fadil Bico told Reuters news agency.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.