Berserkistan Navigator Britain's John Major Tours Banja Luka
Visiting Troops, Bosnian Serb Opposition

By Dan De Luce

John Major and British IFOR Troops

BANJA LUKA, May 24 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister John Major made a point of meeting opponents of hardline nationalist leader Radovan Karadizic on Friday as he toured Bosnian Serb territory for the first time. He held talks at British army headquarters in the northwest town of Banja Luka with former premier Rajko Kasagic, a moderate whom Karadzic replaced a week ago, Serb political sources said.

Major also met six other opposition politicians including Banja Luka mayor Predrag Radic, who supported Kasagic's efforts to cooperate with the peace process and end the Bosnian Serbs' international isolation. Western powers condemned Karadzic's decision to sack Kasagic and Major's visit to Banja Luka sent a clear signal to the hardline leadership that what he called ``democratic'' politicians'' still enjoyed international backing.

Major did not discuss details of his talks with Kasagic and the other politicians but said the meetings were "useful." "We had chance to exhange our opinions and discussed some of the practical problems of implementating Dayton (peace accord), as well as some practical problems which local people are facing," he said.

Since the Dayton treaty was signed last December, Banja Luka has emerged as a rival power centre to the eastern village of Pale, base of the hardline Bosnian Serb leadership. The British army moved its Bosnia headquarters to the town last month as part of an international effort to create an alternative Serb capital.

About 600 British soldiers are stationed at a metal mill on Banja Luka's outskirts to help to enforce the Dayton accord which ended the 43-month war in the former Yugoslav repoblic. There are 11,500 British troops serving in the NATO-led peace implementation force (IFOR) helping to reconstruct the country, government officials said.

In the first visit by a Western leader to Serb territory since the Dayton pact was signed, Major flew from Banja Luka by helicopter south to the Sipovo region, an area which the Muslim-Croat federation handed back to the Serbs. British soldiers escourted Major on a brief walk through Sipovo, where Serb residents were repairing buildings torched and looted by departing Croat troops earlier this year.

After chatting with vendors at the town's outdoor market, he addressed a crowd of British soldiers from atop an armoured tow-truck, telling them: "Back in the United Kingdom, people are immensely proud of the work that you have done here."

Major, clad in sports shoes and kakhi trousers, said he hoped post-war elections would be held on schedule in September and indicated that the soldiers' mission would be completed as planned by the end of the year. In a reference to their peace-keeping mission, he said: "You are trying to return some form of tolerable life to people who would otherwise be living in great deprivation."

Major later visited Sarajevo and told a news conference after the talks with President Alija Izetbegovic that he had reafirmed Britain's support for Bosnia. "I certainly confirmed to the president the importance that we feel about maintaining the territorial integrity of Bosnia," he said.

Additional resources
May 24 · Izetbegovic to Major: Elections Will Depend on Dayton Compliance
Banja Luka Facts, Tales, Legends and Friends.

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