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109 Serbs Released
109 Serbs were released by the Bosnian federation on Saturday night

Major Prisoner of War Release is Underway

Under Threats to Withhold Aid, POWs are Released,
Red Cross Says Croats Release 10 Serb Prisoners

By Kurt Schork

(SARAJEVO, March 25—Reuters—Updated 11am PST) The Red Cross said Bosnian Croats released 10 Serbs from a prison near Mostar on Monday and a diplomat in Sarajevo reported that Bosnian Serbs had promised to free 28 prisoners on Tuesday. The announcements came amidst increased international pressure on Bosnia's formerly warring factions to honor their commitments under the Dayton peace agreement, including the release of all prisoners of war, or face the consequences.

"We can confirm that the Croats have released the 10 prisoners," said Anne-Sophie Bonefeld, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Sarajevo. Ambassador Michael Steiner, deputy to Carl Bildt, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia, said he had received a pledge from the Serbs on the prisoner issue. "There was a commitment that by tomorrow (Tuesday) 28 persons held by the Republika Srpska would be released," Steiner told reporters in Sarajevo on Monday.

"We had a confirmation this would happen and we want to see if it really does." Hidajet Delic, a Muslim photographer accredited to the Bosnian government press agency and the Associated Press, was freed on Monday after having been held by the Serbs since February 8th. His release came a day after Ninko Djuric, a Serb journalist captured by the Bosnian Army last summer, was freed by the government side. The Dayton agreement required that all prisoners of war held by the three Bosnian factions be released by January 19. Hundreds were freed but many others were kept behind bars.

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Some of those detained were held on suspicion of war crimes, which is permitted for a reasonable period of time under the accord. Others remained in prison in blatant violation of the agreement. Prime ministers from the five major power sponsors of Dayton vowed in Moscow over the weekend that international reconstruction assistance would not be provided to those who continued to violate their prisoner release obligations. The mainly-Muslim Bosnian government promptly released 109 prisoners of war on Saturday evening.

Government authorities admit to holding a further 26 on suspicion of war crimes, men whose dossiers have been forwarded to the U.N. war crimes tribunal at the Hague. After Monday's release of 10 prisoners, the Croats still hold another 41 whom they say are suspected war criminals.

Were the promised Serb release of 26 prisoners on Tuesday to go ahead it would clear their slate of all prisoners registered with the international Red Cross. All three sides suspect the others of holding unregistered prisoners and the problem of missing persons remains a mostly unresolved issue among them. The ICRC has 12,000 missing persons registered, 8,000 alone from the area around Srebrenica which fell to Bosnian Serb forces last summer.

Additional resources
International Red Cross International Red Cross Operations in the Balkans
United Nations United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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