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Human Rights is Focus of Geneva Meet of Balkan Leaders
Movement on War Criminals, Prisoners,
Free Elections Put Positive Spin on Talks

(GENEVA, March 18—Reuters) Balkan leaders, under U.S. and European pressure, agreed on Monday to new steps to bolster the strained Bosnia peace deal. They included increased patrols by NATO-led forces to stem looting and the transfer of three wanted men to the U.N. War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague. The accord, product of day-long talks, commits Bosnia's rival Muslim, Croat and Serb factions to release all prisoners by March 23 and accelerates the normalisation of ties with resumed commercial air flights between Sarajevo and Belgrade. The parties pledged to facilitate fair elections this year and to deal with violence that threatens a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

Warren Christopher U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher negotiated the agreement with Presidents Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Acting President Ejup Ganic of Bosnia. The talks took longer than expected. U.S. officials said at the last minute Milosevic balked at turning over to the War Crimes Tribunal two Serbs wanted in connection with massacres near Srebrenica in July, 1995, but Christopher insisted he do so.

Move to Bolster Bosnian Federation
A separate agreement, initiated by international High Commissioner for Bosnia Carl Bildt, aims to strengthen the Muslim-Croat federation whose success is a cornerstone of the Bosnia peace accord reached at Dayton, Ohio last November. Among other things, it provides for the removal of local officials who refuse to support the federation and denies aid to cantons that do not implement the federation, which is one-half of Bosnia. The other half is the Serb republic. "When the three presidents of the Balkan countries signed the Dayton accords, they did not promise merely to stop fighting in Bosnia (but) to create the conditions that would allow peace to take hold and endure," Christopher told a news conference.

Coming Elections Crucial
Monday's agreements are an attempt to focus on human rights, freedoms of press and movement, reconstruction and the "crucial next test" — elections in August-September, he said. Although the Dayton accord is widely seen as succeeding militarily in ending fighting and separating rival forces, there are major concerns on the civilian front. U.S. officials say frequent meetings with the Balkan leaders are needed.

Reflecting deep animosity inflamed by war, thousands of Bosnian civilians have fled areas being handed over to their former foes in land swaps negotiated under the peace deal. Christopher and NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, in Brussels Saturday, acknowledged problems as Sarajevo reunifies. But neither spoke out strongly or called for particular action. On Monday, however, Christopher said U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of the NATO-led IFOR peacekeeping force policing Bosnia, had agreed IFOR would "immediately intensify its patrols in Sarajevo to stem the looting and arson." Smith said the 60,000-strong force would also "exercise its right to detain looters and arsonists for up to 72 hours." The Muslim-Croat federation police force will also increase its patrols under international monitoring.

New Deal Struck on War Criminals
U.S. officials hailed the deal on war criminals a significant step toward compliance with the tribunal at The Hague. Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic—who was indicted at The Hague, then promoted by Tudjman, prompting international outrage —will voluntarily surrender to the tribunal. Radislav Kremenovic and Drazen Erdemovic, who have spoken publicly of their involvement in the Srebrenica massacres and are now being detained in Belgrade, will be tranferred by Serbian authorities to the Hague. They could be freed after 60 days if not formally indicted but that is considered unlikely.

The five members of the Bosnia Contact Group—the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia—who also met in Geneva on Monday will meet again in Moscow on March 23.

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