Political Will Absent from Attempts to Unify Croats and Muslims
LONDON (AP)The success of the Dayton peace agreement is under threat because Croats and Muslims have failed to make their federation work, the NATO commander in Bosnia said Wednesday.
"The fundamental fact is that the whole peace agreement is built on the federation’s survival," Admiral Leighton Smith told a small group of journalists.
"I have seen very little evidence of political will within the country to draw the federation together." He called for Croats and Muslims to sit down at the same table, resolve their differences and agree on a single military commander.
"What I’d like to see is clear-cut, no holds barred, let’s get on with it political demonstration of will to make this federation work. It has to occur first at the political level, which it is not, and second at the military level, which it is not, and then at the people level, which it is not," Smith said.
The Croat-Muslim federation was formed under U.S. pressure in March 1994 after the two ethnic groups engaged in a nearly year-long war. But lingering enmity has kept it weak and hobbled its effectiveness as a counterweight to the Bosnian Serb republic that makes up the other half of Bosnia. Reuniting the city of Mostar, which has been divided since a bitter Muslim-Croat war in 1993-94, is considered essential to the peace plan because the two ethnic groups are supposed to work together to govern the country. Roadblocks dividing Muslim and Croat districts were lifted Feb. 20 and integrated police forces now patrol the city, but many inhabitants are reluctant to cross the dividing line.
Slapping a Band-Aid on Mostar
"Mostar is a symptom of a huge countrywide disease," Smith said. "Solving the Mostar problem is obviously a good start, but it’s slapping a Band-Aid somewhere where we need major surgery." He called an unsuccessful attempt by hardline Croats opposed to union with the Muslims to thwart Wednesday’s smooth handover of a Sarajevo suburb to Muslim-Croat control another "dangerous sign."
"The federation is in trouble right now, and unless somebody gets hold of it and understands the seriousness of it not being brought together from within, I believe we’re going to have a problem," he said. Smith was more optimistic about NATO’s military operations. U.S., Russian and British troops are operating in Serb territory. The warring parties have pulled back although every day, peacekeeping troops find military equipment and Bosnian, Croat or Serb troops in places they shouldn’t be, he said.
"I think if we can build on this momentum we’ve established so far, we’ll get through the spring without the armies coming out of barracks and starting to bump up on each other," he said. The biggest problem in the spring is going to be the return of thousands of displaced people and refugees who may not be able to get back into the villages they used to live in, he said. Smith said he has already told civilian police that NATO will not tolerate police checkpoints set up to prohibit freedom of movement.
A Bosnian Mafia Emerges, Complicating Peace
A large criminal element is also emerging throughout Bosnia, and he said he expects armed men to be stopping cars and extorting money or robbing people. "In fact, a lot of people will tell you one of the major problems in Mostar isn’t so much Croat versus Muslim, it’s mafia trying to protect their income," he said.
Even if the NATO-led military operation is 100 percent successful, the admiral said he realizes "any other piece of this puzzle can crumble and we’ll be tarred by the same brush." Others include elections, scheduled from August 14 to September 14, reducing turmoil when the refugees return, and reconstruction.
Smith said he saw the depth of distrust three weeks ago when he visited Muslim and Serb high schools on the same day, which he called his hardest day in Bosnia. "In my lifetime, I have never experienced such raw, unadulterated, unabridged hatred in both places. And that’s frightening. I was really frightened," he said.
Berserkistan Background on Mostar
The Dayton Accord at a Glance
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