Former US Balkan mediator Richard Holbrooke said he never made a deal to block Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic's prosecution for war crimes, in comments late Thursday on Dutch television, dpa reported.
"This is an outrageous fabrication by a war criminal," Holbrooke told the late-night current-affairs programme NOVA. "I never have made such a deal. It would have been unethical and immoral."
During his initial appearance on Thursday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Bosnian Serb former leader claimed that in 1996, Holbrooke had offered Karadzic's "representatives and ministers" that the war-crimes indictment would be annulled if he would vanish from public life.
Karadzic claimed that the agreement was part of the Dayton peace agreement.
Holbrooke said that due to the continued refusal of NATO in 1995 and 1996 to arrest Karadzic, he had been forced to negotiate with Karadzic's representatives about an agreement with the Bosnian-Serb leader to pull back from the public arena.
"This agreement was signed on July 18, 1996. But I did not give Karadzic anything in exchange," Holbrooke emphasized, "and it would have been a lot better had someone ordered NATO to arrest him when it was still possible."
In the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague, Karadzic on Thursday said he had seriously considered coming to The Hague in 1996 but did not do so out of fear of assassination due to the claimed Holbrooke promise.
Karadzic claimed that the United States was busy trying to have the indictment against him annulled by the ICTY. However, this failed after the then-president of the ICTY Richard Goldstone threatened to step down if the indictment were annulled.
Rumors about a possible deal between the US and Karadzic are not new. In her recently published book, Florence Hartmann, a former assistant to former ICTY prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, claimed the same, as has former Bosnian Ambassador Mohammed Sacirby.
Holbrooke laughed about Karadzic's expressed fears that the US envoy's "long arm" might endanger his life in the UN detention center in Scheveningen, the Netherlands.
"In a way it is flattering that he thinks my arm reaches to The Hague," Holbrooke said. "But the truth is, I am just an ordinary citizen, and Karadzic is where he should have been a long time ago - at the ICTY."