Illegal Checkpoints Still Persist
(SARAJEVOReuters) NATO peace forces said on Thursday they were unhappy with their progress in securing the right for civilians to travel where they wished across Bosnia. "We are clearly unhappy which is why we introduced a more robust policy to deal with what we perceive as unnecessary checkpoints which hinder legitimate freedom of movement," said NATO spokesman Major Simon Haselock. A 60,000-strong NATO-led force is in Bosnia to implement the Dayton peace deal which ended the country's 3½-year war. The accord included a committment by all parties to allow free travel across former front lines. But a quarter of the way through its year-long mission NATO has made little progress in making that pledge a reality. Civilians still risk arrest if they travel across boundary lines or suffer harassment at checkpoints.
To try to combat the problem NATO declared a get-tough policy on illegal roadblocks. It says it has shut down more than 50 such checkpoints and believes its message is filtering down to the grass roots. "We have encountered some resistance at local police level from people who believe our policy limits their ability to carry out normal policing," said Haselock.
Goal Ambitious but Necessary
NATO's goal of complete freedom of travel is acknowledged as ambitious but Haselock said it was crucial for the success of other parts of the Dayton peace agreement, such as the return of refugees and the successful staging of free elections. The United Nations refugee agency said 57 Bosnian Muslims who spent the war in Hungary had been successfully repatriated to the Tuzla area on Wednesday but no one could yet return to areas controlled by former foes. "We haven't even started with the return of minorities and will not start until the conditions are right. It can't take place without freedom of movement," said Mans Nyberg, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Diplomats and some NATO officials doubt the right to travel freely will ever be reestablished, citing the level of distrust between ethnic groups determined to live apart from others. That distrust was underlined by the arrest last Friday of three Muslim men near Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs. United Nations police officials said there appeared to be some substance to Serb allegations one of the men was caught planting an anti-personnel mine on a road, with his two colleagues acting as lookouts. A U.N. spokesman had earlier said the three were playing football.
Bosnian government officials moved on Thursday to defuse a crisis over U.N. monitoring of mainly Muslim police forces in formerly Serb-held suburbs that threatened to undermine efforts to give Serbs who fled the confidence to return. Spokesman Alexander Ivanko said the Sarajevo police chief had promised to order Ilidza police units to resume cooperation with the U.N.'s international police task force. "Its a hopeful sign," said Ivanko.
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