Former Bosnian-Serb military leader Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide in the bloody Balkan wars of the mid-1990s and one of the world's most-wanted fugitives, was captured after more than a dozen years on the run, Serbian officials announced Monday evening.
The stunning arrest of the 63-year-old Mr. Karadzic was a coup for the new pro-Western Serbian government, whose efforts to break out of international isolation have been crippled in part because of a failure to bring Mr. Karadzic and other war-crimes suspects to justice.
"Radovan Karadzic was located and arrested tonight" by Serbian security agents, the office of Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a statement Monday night, giving few details of the operation.
The capture was immediately hailed by the European Union, the White House and Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor for The Hague-based international tribunal that is trying crimes arising from the Balkan wars. The panel has brought two indictments against Mr. Karadzic relating to the deaths of thousands of Muslims and Croats in Bosnia at the hands of ethnic-Serb forces during the 1992-95 clashes that tore apart the former state of Yugoslavia.
"This is excellent news," said EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana on Monday. "... It shows the commitment of the new Serbian government to cooperate with international organizations."
The White House in a statement congratulated the Serbian security forces for their "professionalism and courage" in tracking down Mr. Karadzic.
"There is no better tribute to the victims of the war's atrocities than bringing their perpetrators to justice," the statement said.
Mr. Brammertz, who was scheduled to visit Belgrade on Wednesday, called the capture of Mr. Karadzic a "milestone."
"This is a very important day for the victims who have waited for this arrest for over a decade," he added. "It is also an important day for international justice because it clearly demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the law and that, sooner or later, all fugitives will be brought to justice."
The indictments charge Mr. Karadzic and other Bosnian-Serb leaders with genocide, murder, deportation and other acts targeting non-Serbian populations in Bosnia during the war.
U.N. investigators charge his forces with killing at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys during the siege of Srebrenica in July 1995, and using international peacekeepers as human shields during the shelling of Sarajevo.
Mr. Karadzic's forces were attempting to carve out a Serbian enclave in Bosnia, battling local Croats and Muslims for political dominance.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. diplomat who helped forge the accord that ended the fighting in 1995, said Mr. Karadzic was "worse than [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic" in spurring ethnic hatred during the time, and said his capture would have a major impact on the region.
"He was a kind of Robin Hood to the Bosnian Serbs," Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview on CNN. "His removal from the scene will help create stability and has an ongoing significance for the region."
Serbia has been under heavy pressure from the EU and human rights activists over its failure to catch Mr. Karadzic and fellow war-crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, his main military commander. Critics say the two were being sheltered in part by elements within the Serbian security and intelligence agencies. Gen. Mladic remains at large.
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.