State Dept's Richard Holbrooke
to Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia
Chief U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke (bio) will attempt to undo the damage to the Dayton Peace accord inflicted by irate Serbs angered over the arrest of two of their top military commanders. Holbrooke and a party of diplomatic aides stopped in Budapest on Saturday, on his way to Sarajevo for meetings on Sunday in an urgent mission for U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Holbrooke's team will also visit Zagreb, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia.
Friday, (Feb 9) NATO said it had lost communications with top level Bosnian Serb army leaders after Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladic announced Thursday he was breaking off all contact with NATO forces until Serbs held by the Bosnian government on suspicion of war crimes were released. Mladic also imposed travel restrictions in Serb-held areas. Since Mladic has been accused of war crimes by the NATO-established International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, NATO forces in Tuzla said Thursday night that it did not recognize Mladic's order to stop military contacts.
NATO ground commander, Lt. General Michael Walker, termed the developents "ominous." "We have a number of liaison officers who are in the Bosnian Serb military, with whom we inevitably have some contact," Walker said on Friday. "But in terms of the high-level, strategic-type contact that we had with them, there is none. It does have a prospect of turning bad."
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, concerned about growing tensions, directed Holbrooke back to the region to press the leaders of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to adhere to the terms of the accord, spokesman Nicholas Burns said in Helsinki on Thursday. "I wouldn't call it a crisis," Burns said. "I think there is a general problem on some implementation issues." Holbrooke's return is aimed at "sending a strong signal to all the parties that we expect Dayton to be implemented," Burns said, "We're looking now for actions. Actions are more important than reassurances."
"The United States is sending a strong signal to all the parties that the United States wants the Dayton accords fully implemented," said U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns. The NATO Implementation Force, buoyed by its success so far disengaging the combatants, now faces its sternest test yet: trying to restore contact with the Serbs while upholding its duty to make war-crimes prosecutions possible.
Richard Goldstone, chief prosecutor of the war tribunal, says Bosnia had an obligation to detain the suspected war criminals. "There's an international obligation on every party who signed the Geneva Conventions or the Genocide Convention, and that applies to all the parties in the former Yugoslavia," Goldstone said Friday. "Grave breaches are the positive duty of all national states to investigate and prosecute."
Earlier this week, Bosnian Serbs closed off parts of Sarajevo in protest, blocking William Eagleton, the UN Special Coordinator for Sarajevo, from entering the suburb of Vogosca. A Serb police officer told Eagleton that he could not enter the area. Bosnian Serbs have said they will not allow anyone through without a special permit until March 19, have threatened to block routes through Serbian suburbs that connect Sarajevo to the rest of the country, and have declared that Serbian representatives are not allowed to enter the Muslim sections of Sarajevo.
Bosnian police arrested Gen. Djordje Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic January 30th after their driver made a wrong turn into government territory near Sarajevo. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague has supported the arrest and detainment of the senior Serb officers believed responsible for civilian massacres around Sarajevo. ''Whether it will come to actual indictments, we just don't know,'' tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said Wednesday. "They were satisfied at the prosecution office that there was sufficient information to decide to take this step." The tribunal issued provisional arrest warrants for the two and prosecutors flew into the Bosnian capital after top prosecutor Richard Goldstone asked authorities to take all measures to prevent the escape of the two officers.
Gen. Djukic was in charge of the Serbs' logistics operations during the Bosnian War, assisted by his deputy, Col. Krmanovic. They are among eight Serbs the Bosnian government says it has detained over the past three weeks. The driver driver of the car carrying Djukic and Krmanovic and two other Serbs are being questioned as witnesses. They will be freed soon, say Bosnian officials. Members of an international police force visited the two Serb officers Wednesday and reported they were in good condition, but that Djukic, in his 70s, had asked to see a doctor.
The arrests heightened Serbs' fears for their safety in areas of Sarajevo being transferred to government control by March 19. Many Serb men fought against the Muslim-led government and fear it will arrest them for war crimes. Hundreds of Serb families have already packed up and left, some going as far as to exhume the bodies of family members killed in the fighting in order to re-bury them in land within Serb control.
Tensions over the arrest "may have an adverse effect on the implementation of the accords," said Pavle Bulatovic, the defense minister of Serb-led Yugoslavia on Wednesday. It is "unacceptable that state representatives going on an official mission should be arrested on the road," he said. The Bosnian Serb military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, who has not spoken in public since December, urged Bosnian Serbs to freeze relations with NATO and warned that Serbs might sever relations entirely with NATO's IFOR officials entirely if the detainees are not freed. Mladic, also under indictment for war crimes is a close associate of Gen. Djukic.
U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of NATO forces in Bosnia, flew to Serb army headquarters in Han Pijesak to discuss the row with Mladic's deputy, General Zdravko Tolimir. Smith told Zaravko that any decision to release the detainees was up to the U.N. tribunal. "The international tribunal is doing its work. I think we have to allow that to proceed and hopefully it will be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone," Smith told reporters. U.S. Gen. William G. Carter, a top commander in the NATO-led force, said Smith urged Serb army commanders "to allow the tribunal to carry out their job and to contain the emotion so we don't begin a series of escalating acts."
Meantime, Rajko Kasagic, the self-styled prime minister of the Bosnian Serbs, called off meetings with international mediator Carl Bildt and Britain's Prince Charles in Sarajevo.
In Washington, the United States stands by the arrest of Djukic and Krmanovic. State Department spokesman Glyn Davies criticized the Bosnian Serbs for declaring a boycott of all contacts on Bosnian government territory. "We've told them that while we understand their concerns at the original arrests, those concerns don't justify a suspension of contacts with the Bosnian government or with the implementation force," he told reporters at a briefing.