Crisis Over Detained Serbs Resolved
Though Problems Still Remain
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke returned to Sarajevo from Belgrade today, saying he has averted a Serb boycott of the Dayton Peace Accord. Holbrooke says Serb president Slobodan Milosevic, in "a very good meeting," will back away from a Serb boycott thanks to new procedures governing the future arrests of suspected war criminals.
The crisis began when the Bosnian federation detained a group of Serb soldiers who strayed into Bosnian territory on January 31st. They include two high-ranking officers, Gen. Djordje Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, accused of war crimes by the U.N.'s war crimes tribunal. In the future, under the deal worked out between Holbrooke and Milosevic, no additional Serbs will be detained without advance approval by the war crimes tribunal. Richard Goldstone, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, approves of the strategy.
President Milosevic,quoted by Yugoslav media, said isolated incidents such as the detention of the two army officers should not sabotage the peace process. Holbrooke's apparent resolution of the gravest crisis facing the Dayton agreement to date was built on a widening rift between Bosnian Serb political leaders and their military.
The Bosnian Serb position is that Gen. Ratko Mladic's order to break relations with NATO's peacekeeping force was invalid and had been rescinded. "This demand by Gen. Mladic does not reflect the view of the Bosnian Serb government," said Bosnian Serb prime minister Rajko Kasagic. "Gen. Mladic does not speak for the government. Our government decides policy and our army implements government policy." The Serbs, however, still refuse to meet with Bosnian government officials citing "security" issues, adding they would not travel to Sarajevo, even under escort, for meetings with NATO or U.N. officials.
Mladic has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the problem of his prosecution, and that of others indicted by the tribunal, but still at large, has not yet been resolved.
Holbrooke Upbeat, NATO Cautious, Bosnians Pleased
"We have all agreed today, President (Alija) Izetbegovic in Sarajevo, President (Slobodan) Milosevic here in Belgrade, that the Dayton process must continue, it must not slow down," Holbrooke told reporters in Belgrade late Sunday. "Both presidents reaffirm their full commitment to Dayton. There has been no change." Holbrooke said the Bosnian government on Monday had reiterated its commitment to release any or all of those under detention whom the U.N. tribunal decides are not indictable.
NATO will today test the strength of the renewed Dayton deal, said spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Rayner. "Today we're going to take the temperature of the situation by running a thorough check thoughout the area of operations to see who's still talking to us, where our links remain in place and to assess where we stand."
The Bosnian federation was pleased with the events of Holbrooke's shuttle diplomacy. Ejup Ganic, the vice president of the Muslim-Croat federation, said Holbrooke never pressed his government to release the two Serb accused of war crimes. "My understanding is that the American government is pleased that we are holding two persons that are accused war criminals," he told reporters in Sarajevo. "They support us."