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May 15, 2004

Karadzic supporter held in Bosnia 

Mr Bjelica's assets have been frozen
Nato-led forces in Bosnia have detained a man on suspicion of helping former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic escape arrest. Milovan Bjelica, a former mayor of the Bosnian Serb town of Pale, was arrested in the Serb-run town of Sokolac, near Sarajevo, S-For officials said. Mr Bjelica has long been considered a key member of Mr Karadzic's network.

His assets were frozen last year after he was named as Mr Karadzic's main communications link. Mr Karadzic has been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague on charges of genocide and other crimes relating to the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. However, he has so far evaded capture. Mr Bjelica is the fourth Bosnian Serb to be detained by Nato peacekeepers this year on suspicion of aiding Mr Karadzic. The others were later released after several days of questioning. Last year, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, froze Mr Bjelica's financial assets and banned him from political office for his alleged role in helping Mr Karadzic.

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A western official who asked not to be named told AFP that "according to information from various sources, Bjelica was a key member of Karadzic's support network."

"If there is one man who knows where Radovan Karadzic is then Bjelica is that man," the official said.

"Whether or not SFOR is going to get more information from him is another matter, but he certainly is important," he added.

SFOR also announced it was carrying out a series of search operations in the Serb-run town of Sokolac, near Sarajevo, following Bjelica's arrest there.

The searches involving 30 personnel from an SFOR special unit targeted Sokolac municipal building and Bjelica's residence there, peacekeepers said in a statement.

Bjelica, a former mayor of the Bosnian Serb town of Pale, Karadzic's wartime stronghold, and a powerful businessman, was sacked last year by top international representative in Bosnia Paddy Ashdown for supporting Karadzic.

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