Celebici is a remote gnat of a place. It has a few dozen houses and a church, a couple of hours up a rough road from the ragged Bosnian hills, surrounded by forested peaks. But it generated big enough headlines when Nato-led forces staged Operation Daybreak there in February, 2002, in an apparent attempt to capture Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who has been indicted by the Hague's war crimes tribunal for helping to lead a genocide in 1992-1995 that killed up to 200,000 people, mostly Bosnian Muslims. Helicopters disgorged black-masked troops who kicked in doors and blew open locks as they conducted a door-to-door search. They left empty-handed. Operation Daybreak remains the only serious action the west is known to have conducted to try to get Europe's most wanted war-crimes suspect. Like Osama bin Laden, Karadzic is well-known and physically distinctive. A tall man with a big belly, a dimpled chin and a dramatic gray bouffant, he ought to be difficult to hide. Like Saddam Hussein, he is a genocidal murderer whose most horrible crimes were committed a decade ago. And like bin Laden, the fact that he remains at large is a cause of instability throughout a strategic region. Eight years after the Dayton Peace Accord began a process that was supposed to lead to reunification - and despite the efforts of hundreds of foreign-aid workers and the expenditure of more than US$5 billion - Bosnia remains fractious. Efforts to create unity and long-term peace have been frustrated by the continued dominance of the ethnic Serbian 'state within a state' known as Republika Srpska by a corrupt clique said to be controlled by Karadzic. The fate of the entire area holds lessons for other western efforts at democracy and nation-building, such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Karadzic's continued freedom gives the huge numbers of ethnic Muslims and Croats who fled Bosnia during the war and who have been slowly returning to their homes a sense that all has not yet been put right. At the same time, his aura of invincibility has grown among the 700,000 Bosnian Serbs. Perhaps the largest obstacle to finding Karadzic is that the US and its allies have not dedicated enough resources to chasing him down. Many of the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) soldiers - 13,000 troops from 35 countries, down from a peak of 60,000 after the war - share no common language, and those few who can speak to contingents from other countries aren't necessarily inclined to do so. Each contingent has gained a reputation. There are now just 1,500 American troops - all national guardsmen, which means dentists from Ohio and labourers from New York. They're not exactly special forces quality, and tend to stay pretty close to base. Italian and French troops like to live it up and have, perhaps, become too cosy with some locals. The British are the most enthusiastic about doing something. Given their experience among a hostile, armed population in Northern Ireland, they're the best prepared, and show it through deft use of intelligence and lightning raids. So far, they have apprehended most of the war criminals - half of the 24 arrests officially reported by SFOR have come in their zone. But the areas where Bosnians suspect Karadzic is hiding are controlled by Italian, French, and German troops, none of whom seems eager to fire a gun. The Germans I met in Celebici made clear that it would absolutely not be desirable, for historical reasons, to have Germany in the forefront of a bloody international military incident that involves capturing someone accused of murdering large numbers of innocent people. The French, technically in charge of the area, have been historically close to the Serbs and opposed the creation of the Hague tribunal. On the morning of the Celebici raid, according to military sources, a French officer took a call from a Republika Srpska policeman inquiring about an unusually large SFOR presence. In the conversation, which was monitored by peacekeepers, the Frenchman obliquely referred to the area being of interest, 'today, in particular'. Capturing Karadzic is especially challenging. Everywhere one travels on both sides of the border between Bosnia and Serbia - and in neighbouring Montenegro, where Karadzic was born and raised - he is regarded as a kind of folk hero, celebrated for ostensibly defending orthodoxy against Muslim aggression and thereby playing a righteous role in what amounts to a 500-year-old quarrel. The Hague's evidence of his war crimes is dismissed as biased or trumped up. His calls for a single country uniting all ethnic Serbs have been used effectively to polish his local image as a hero. Karadzic sat - and presumably continues to sit - at the nexus of an intricate web of political, legal, military/police and financial power that gained considerable wealth through wartime profiteering and favourable treatment from the Karadzic and post-Karadzic regimes in Republika Srpska. Many government officials, including cabinet ministers, are deeply involved in the underground economy, and would potentially face charges and long prison sentences if the semi-independent republic were ever cleaned up. In the past year or so, western forces in Bosnia have moved to crack down on the most corrupt among the army's top brass, but the institution remains loyal to Karadzic. Republika Srpska is the only part of the former Yugoslavia that has yet to arrest a single war crimes suspect - despite being required to do so under the Dayton accords. Karadzic's cronies spend about US$200,000 a month protecting him, according to foreign diplomats. A sort of medieval tithing system, enforced by tough guys, includes a 'tax' collected by civilians carrying police identification, and skimmed profits from foreign electricity sales. Republika Srpska also makes donations to the Orthodox Church for the ostensible purpose of rebuilding religious structures destroyed in the war - donations that, by law, cannot be monitored or even audited. Officials in the ethnic Serb capital of Banja Luka and foreign diplomats said some of this money finds its way to Karadzic. In March last year, Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte said that monitored telephone communications had revealed that Karadzic was hiding at a mountaintop orthodox monastery in Ostrog, northwest of the capital. Church officials denied sheltering Karadzic but praised him nonetheless. If catching Saddam was as key to Iraq's future as the White House says, what does it say about the future of the strategically important Balkans when a war crime suspect of Karadzic's magnitude roams free - not because he can't be found but because SFOR elements apparently would rather not find him?