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OMRI: PURSUING BALKAN PEACE, V1,#11, Mar. 19, 1996

From: OMRI-L <>

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory


















    Vol. 1, No. 11, 19 March 1996


    The last formerly Serbian-held suburbs of Sarajevo have passed to government control in keeping with the terms of the Dayton agreement, thereby reuniting the city. An ugly pattern developed in the process, by which the nationalist Serbian leadership in Pale used intimidation, arson, and thuggery to force its own people to leave their homes for an uncertain future in provincial towns. In some cases no transportation was provided for the expelees, and in others it was available only thanks to the arrival of Bosnian Serb army vehicles with IFOR's blessing. To date the refugees have been scattered chiefly around eastern and northern Bosnia to help consolidate the Serbian hold on territories from which Muslims and Croats had been driven or where they had been murdered in the course of the war. The men in Pale seem to have shown particular interest in sending refugees to the Brcko area in northern Bosnia, the future of which will be decided by international arbitration at a later date.

    In the second to last case of a suburb passing to federal control, namely that of Ilidza, the problem was compounded by the vicious behavior of Muslim gangs. They preyed on the few thousand Serbs who had defied their Serbian tormentors and stayed on, but who then found not the return of a multi-cultural society but the arrival of militant bigots of Muslim nationality. It is not clear who was behind these gangs, but the effect of their presence is obvious. As a UN spokesman put it: "This is another blow to the multi-ethnicity of Sarajevo.... It's really a shame that some people who have come from Sarajevo to Ilidza are behaving in the same way as some Serbs [did] before leaving the area. They are intimidating and harassing people."

    The gangs of both sides have something more in common than just a willingness to use violence for political means: namely, they both reject the multi-ethnic society and are carrying out "ethnic cleansing" to create purely Serbian or Muslim communities. Nationalists on both sides in the course of the war have stoked the fires of hatred and created a climate in which such ethnic violence has become acceptable or even on the order of the day.

    Needless to say, all this runs against both the spirit and the letter of the Dayton agreement, but the "international community's" response has been feeble at best. Its representatives on the scene have done little more than scold or shout, and a times by their actions have actually played into the hands of the ethnic cleansers. NATO's IFOR has been dubbed the most professional and most up-to-date army in the world, and has effectively implemented the military provisions of Dayton. But its performance on the civilian front has been less than commendable, mainly because its commanders insist on interpreting their mandate only in the most literal terms.

    As a consequence of this attitude on the part of the peacekeepers, the Serbs were able to tamper with evidence at sites of war crimes, which IFOR at least at first refused to guard. Indicted Serbian war criminals like Radovan Karadzic moved about Bosnia seemingly at will, with IFOR making itself look ridiculous by claiming that its men had not recognized him or were not well enough armed to take him. Some IFOR officers were more blunt, saying outrightly that it is not their business to engage in "manhunts."

    But the most important result of IFOR's interpretation of its mandate has been that gangs of thugs and arsonists have been able to go about their business freely, while IFOR spokesmen defended their own inaction by claiming that they are neither a police force nor a fire department. NATO's most impressive force thus scattered for cover when Serbian police left Ilidza, firing pistols and launching grenades as they went. (IFOR did make one stab at detaining arsonists in Grbavica, but then turned the dozen suspects over to the Serbian police. These promptly freed the men, a point a UN spokesman said was "noticed by both sides.")

    Serbian behavior toward UNPROFOR in 1995 above all showed that, in this part of the world at least, firmness backed up by a willingness to use force earns respect and produces compliance. The events of recent weeks have reconfirmed the inverse of this statement, namely that weakness and a reluctance to defend principle invite only contempt and defiance.

    If IFOR continues on its present course and refuses to defend the political principles of Dayton that define Bosnia as a multi-ethnic society in which all have the right to live in their own homes, the nationalists on all sides are likely to be the winners. Tensions between Croats and Muslims are evident not only in Mostar, but in Sarajevo and central Bosnia's valleys as well. The Muslim nationalists continue to politicize the Bosnian army and treat Sarajevo and the central government as their special preserve. Some observers have suggested that some Muslim leaders might not be too unhappy with a tiny but "ethnically pure" Muslim mini-state, which would then seek support from the Islamic world. And rumors make the rounds that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his Croatian counterpart Franjo Tudjman are working behind the scenes to partition Bosnia according an agreement they allegedly reached at Karadjordjevo exactly five years ago. -- Patrick Moore


    But returning to the Bosnian capital itself, Oslobodjenje on 18 March said that the Sarajevo suburb was "in flames" on the eve of its cession to federal control. It passed into government hands around dawn on 19 March, the day on which all territorial exchanges in Bosnia were to be completed in keeping with the Dayton agreement. Federal police were welcomed by the 1,000-2,000 mainly elderly Serbs who braved days of Serbian violence and virtual anarchy to stay in their homes. The police set up checks of those wanting to enter Grbavica to make sure that only former residents came in, Reuters reported. This was to thwart attempts by Muslim gangs to bother the Serbs and loot their property, as happened in Ilidza. Onasa on 18 March quoted NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana as saying that "in forcing people to leave, the Bosnian Serb authorities have behaved abominably and the actions of the federation authorities have been far from reassuring." The BBC added the next day that many felt that IFOR had not done enough, either. -- Patrick Moore


    Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, for his part, had been upset with the violence accompanying the transfer of Ilidza. He wrote Interior Minister Avdo Hebib to criticize attacks by Muslims against suburban Serbs and their property, Onasa reported on 18 March. Izetbegovic apparently was trying to make sure that the events were not repeated in Grbavica. The president said that "Serbs who have decided, despite the crazed Pale propaganda and threats, to stay in Sarajevo deserve our full protection and they must get it....With a feeling of bitterness I listened in the past days to reports about the behavior of a group of [Muslim] residents....We want an integral and democratic Bosnia. {Pale] wants a divided and ethnically cleansed Bosnia. Our goals diametrically differ from theirs, so the paths and methods are different as well. There will be no integral and democratic Bosnia without strict respect of laws and human rights for all." -- Patrick Moore


    Former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, however, fears that a multi-ethnic Bosnia is seriously in danger. He said on 17 March that the work of the international community in Bosnia to date was actually helping to reinforce divisions rather than promote a unified state, although he noted that responsibility lies ultimately with the Bosnians themselves. Onasa quoted him as telling the Circle 99 group of intellectuals that his planned political party, the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, is "a party that has existed for 1,000 years, the same as Bosnia....We want to unite people in favor of an integral Bosnia, a free and normal country. Members of this party, therefore, are not those who want Bosnia's division." Silajdzic was cited by the Daily Telegraph the following day as adding that Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has become a Muslim nationalist one and has abandoned its earlier ideals of a multi-ethnic state. Silajdzic added that "some political circles actually prefer to bow to the division of Bosnia, living in small national ghettos or feudal statelets." Silajdzic until recently was a member of the SDA and prime minister, but his relationship with the hard-liners in the party was stormy. Globus on 15 March quoted him as saying that he remained loyal to Izetbegovic and the party as long as the war continued, but added that other circumstances obtain now. In his interview with the London daily, he also expressed fears for the future of the Federation and warned that the failure of the Muslim-Croat partnership to become a reality would lead to the formation of "two statelets" and to a provincialization of Muslim mentality. For that reason, he stressed the importance of "the coordination of democratic forces in Bosnia and Croatia." Silajdzic also is concerned about a broader regional conflict developing if Bosnia continues to become polarized: "Disintegration is a danger for the whole region. If it happens it will not stop in Bosnia -- Serbia is only 60% Serbian -- then you have Macedonia, Kosovo, Greece, and the whole Albanian issue." -- Patrick Moore


    Silajdzic's bleak outlook is shared by many others. They note that the military provisions of the Dayton agreement have been fairly successfully carried out but that the civilian package looks rather tacky. The problems facing the return of refugees to their homes and the organization of elections are daunting. On 16 March the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt had also pointed out the dangers of increasing ethnic polarization. News agencies furthermore reported that Muslims have been preventing Croatian refugees from returning to their homes in Bugojno. Bosnian Croat leader and Federal President Kresimir Zubak said that it will take three to four years to make the federation work, Vecernji list noted on 17 March. He accused the Muslims of paying only lip-service to the concept of multi-ethnicity, claiming that what the Muslims wanted instead was a unitary state that they could dominate because they are the largest ethnic group. Zubak said that the Croats, for their part, are more interested in a federation of two equal partners. Western officials, too, are concerned about recent moves by the Muslim leadership that seem aimed at setting up a Muslim mini-state rather than a real multi-ethnic polity, the International Herald Tribune said on 16 and 18 March. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated on 17 March that one of his reasons for calling a summit in Geneva "was to give the parties an opportunity to achieve their stated goal of a multi-ethnic Bosnia," Onasa reported the following day. -- Patrick Moore


    In fact, Sarajevo was the focus of some of the sharpest Croat-Muslim tensions in recent days. The Sarajevo authorities on 11 March set up the Transitional Assembly of the Sarajevo Canton without the consent of Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) councilmen, Oslobodjenje reported. The HDZ councilmen said they did not want the Sarajevo canton to be established without prior consultations at the federal level, Hina reported on 12 March. Sarajevo Mayor Tarik Kupusovic adjourned the council session when he realized the federal partners were opposed to setting up the canton, but 37 councilmen went ahead and set it up in his absence. Kupusovic resigned the next day, after having said that he could not accept such a canton neither as mayor nor as a Sarajevo citizen. The new canton governor argued that it had been necessary to set up a functioning city structure in time for the elections, which must take place by September. While the HDZ said it considers Sarajevo's cantonal arrangement unconstitutional, Omer Ibrahimagic, the president of the city commission in charge of transforming Sarajevo into a canton, said the move is fully in keeping with the constitution. He added that the new legal framework had replaced the old structures, including the mayor's job, anyway. Meanwhile, the HDZ appealed to Tudjman for support in protection of Bosnian Croat political and national interests, and urged Croat officials in the Bosnian Federation to halt their involvement in the implementation of the civil part of the Dayton peace accord. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    And Mostar continued to witness disputes between the two nominal allies, too. The local branch of the SDA will ask for a review of the Rome agreement on municipal demarcation lines in Mostar if the Croats continue to obstruct the reunification process, Onasa reported on 14 March. The SDA statement said the Croats' behavior "must not be tolerated" and urged Mostar EU administrator Hans Koschnick to launch the reunification process. The statement accused the Croats of "disturbing traffic, hampering free movement, [and] planting mines in Muslim houses" while also raising the question of "the last unsolved murder in the Croat part of Mostar." The Muslim party added that "the reason for its concern is also the refusal of the Croat Mayor Mijo Brajkovic to accept Koschnick's decision on the administration of the central district." Meanwhile, Zubak told Croatian TV that "the core of the problem lies in the fact there are no coordinated views on how the Federation should be organized," Hina reported on 13 March. He nonetheless was optimistic enough that the two sides will manage to solve the problems in Sarajevo and elsewhere by themselves, without outside mediation. Silajdzic had taken the opposite view in Globus and accused the HDZ of sabotaging the Federation. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Washington has been troubled by these problems within the Federation and by those between Sarajevo and Pale. Accordingly, even though the Rome summit took place only a month ago, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on 18 March held talks in Geneva with leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia to discuss implementing the Dayton agreement. Federation leaders Zubak and Ejup Ganic and agreed on a 12- point plan, AFP quoted diplomatic sources as saying. The officials recommitted themselves to their pledges made in Rome, notably on the reunification of Mostar, freedom of movement, religious freedom, and the return of refugees. Tudjman and Milosevic held a face-to-face meeting to discuss a process of normalizing the relationship between their two countries, Nasa Borba reported on 19 March. What will happen in practice, of course, remains to be seen. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Turning to relations between the Federation and Pale, Bildt favors appointing arbitrators to solve the territorial issue of the Brcko corridor in northern Bosnia, Onasa and Beta reported on 15 March. Under the Dayton agreement, which did not settle the fate of the strategic supply corridor linking Serbia and western Bosnia, the Republika Srpska and the Federation will name arbitrators by mid-June. In a letter to Izetbegovic, Bildt promised to raise the question with the respective prime ministers. Izetbegovic had earlier expressed concern that Serb refugees from Sarajevo suburbs were being settled in Brcko to further alter the ethnic balance and thereby prejudice the outcome of the final territorial settlement. Bildt's Deputy Michael Steiner had earlier urged the forming of a joint civilian commission, pointing out that the issue should not be left to the last minute. The Dayton agreement calls for a solution by mid-December. -- Fabian Schmidt


    And there were even tougher issues for Bildt. Oslobodjenje and Onasa repeatedly reported on negative reactions from Sarajevo to his plans to found an alternative independent television network to compete with state TV and local nationalist stations during and after the elections. An Oslobodjenje commentary on 17 March focused on the alleged hypocrisy of the international community, which delays reconstruction assistance to Bosnia for various reasons while being able to find $25 million "overnight" to establish the independent channel. Another editorial the day before stated that the international community is trying to control Bosnia by occupying its media space. Bildt's project was depicted as the "old-style behavior of the world's great powers" that want to have a monopoly over former communist countries. Bosnian opposition leaders also wrote a letter of protest to Bildt, while Adil Kulenovic, the director of the independent radio and television station Studio 99, said the creation of new networks would endanger the already existing independent media and democratization, Oslobodjenje reported on 18 March. He said that the existing independent media will be destroyed as foreign power centers try to colonize Bosnia. A possible reason for such strongly negative statements could be the fear the new network will siphon off funds that might otherwise be used to help existing independent media, which are completely dependent on foreign financial support. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Another kind of foreign financial support also seemed to be in short supply. The U.S. and Turkey sponsored a one-day conference in Ankara on 15 March aimed at securing pledges of aid to build up the federal military. The idea, as set down in the Dayton agreement, is to level the playing field by making the Bosnian military strong enough to deter future Serbian aggression. This Bosnia "Train and Equip" Donors Conference nonetheless ended with only the U.S. and Turkey pledging definite amounts to build the federal army. Washington offered $100 million and Ankara $2 million, the Turkish Daily News reported on 16 March. -- Patrick Moore


    Bosnia was luckier in finding some strong support for civilian projects. The World Bank will admit Bosnia to membership, having agreed on 13 March to refinance the country's $445 million in principal and interest arrears to the body, international agencies reported. The bank, which will not admit countries not current on their loans from it, agreed to consolidate both this sum and the principal on credits not yet due into a 30-year loan. The result will be a net transfer to Bosnia of some $450 million on favorable terms over the next four years, assuming that the bank's Executive Board approves and individual projects are accepted. The bank envisions a two-track strategy, with an initial round of emergency projects starting up before membership is finalized and a second involving medium-term lending for structural transformation and reconstruction. It estimates that $5.1 billion will be necessary by 2000 to rebuild Bosnia. -- Michael Wyzan


    Some reconstruction is already underway, which has enabled some of the wartime relief agencies to wind- down their operations. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees announced on 15 March that it will reduce its aid deliveries to Bosnia and Herzegovina beginning in April. The reopening of commercial transport enabled the UNHCR to take this step, Beta reported. Spokesman Ron Redmond pointed out that the UNHCR sent more than a million tons of food and medicine to Bosnia during the last four years of the war. -- Fabian Schmidt


    The refugee issue nonetheless remains central, and between 7,000 and 12,000 Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia held a protest rally in Tuzla on 16 March, Onasa and Beta reported. The protesters demanded a safe return to areas currently held by Bosnian Serbs. They criticized Bildt for allegedly delaying the implementation of the Dayton provisions on the return of refugees, and criticized federal authorities for not giving them priority in resettlement. They expressed fear that Serbs who left the Sarajevo suburbs will now be housed in the protesters' homes. The head of the Zvornik exile municipality, Camil Ahmetovic, demanded that everything be done to implement the Dayton agreement in a peaceful way, but added "if this is not successful we will use force and other means." -- Fabian Schmidt


    One man responsible for the refugees' plight is indicted war criminal and Bosnian Serb military leader General Ratko Mladic. He has given a major interview to the Belgrade weekly Nin, which appeared in its 15 March issue

    Nin: You said that this was a very inhuman war and that many [outsiders] helped the Muslims and the Croats. But isn't that precisely why you are [identified as] a war criminal...and your imprisonment and judgment sought?

    Mladic: The Serbs have admitted to all the wrongdoings they have committed, right from the very beginning of the war to the signing of the Dayton peace. We are, for the very powerful, the ones who started the war, the common criminals. The Germans, wanting their atrocities in the First and Second World Wars to be forgotten, concoct atrocities [starting] on our side and conduct anti-Serbian campaigns. Besides that, we have lost the Republic of Serbian Krajina and one-third of the Republika Srpska in this war, centuries-old Serb lands, and we are the biggest victims of this war.

    The Americans have their own calculations. They want that through this war that the entire world forgets about their crimes in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Gulf, and so on. Notorious is the fact that we defended our land, and not just from the Muslims and the Croats, but also from the Germans... and the Americans who not only bombarded us from planes but planned the Muslim and Croat operations.

    There is no greater shame for us Serbs than to be bombed by some Dutchman. I have no idea whom Holland could bomb on its own. Not even Denmark, but it simply dared to bomb Serbs. Their miserable Van den Broek committed great atrocities and made a great contribution to the collapse of former Yugoslavia.

    Nin: Were there any war crimes that could be acquitted through the formation of a Hague Court and why is the West insisting on its necessity?

    Mladic: Every war has its war crimes, but that simply does not mean that all who take part in one are war criminals. We defended our land and people. War was declared on us. War crimes were committed against us by all who made war on us, and by all those who supported them. The international community also committed a war crime when it so easily glossed over the partition of Yugoslavia, one of the founders of the United Nations, not to mention one of its members for some fifty-odd years.

    I am entirely sure that no one [on the Serbian side] --no individual, no group--had any permission to do whatever he or they wanted [in contravention] of international wartime rights [conventions]. The people fought righteously, honestly, and courageously. Every Muslim and Croatian prisoner of war was, in time, exchanged, or unilaterally released. We have done this again just now, although the Muslims and the Croats continue to hold our civilians, soldiers and officers in their prisons.

    The army of the Republika Srpska did not participate in even one war crime; it did not commit a single crime. We conducted the war in compliance with international [conventions]. Many, shall we say, manipulate certain [issues], such as Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, Sarajevo, the French pilots, and so on. We treated the Muslim residents in a manner befitting a civilized people and we evacuated them, in our own buses, and in the presence of international observers. On each and every bus there were UNPROFOR officers and soldiers. They gave fuel, and from their own cisterns fueled the buses and trucks for their journey. And for these generals [Admiral Leighton] Smith... it doesn't even occur to them that they might offer the Serbs of Sarajevo some fuel, so that we can help our nationals who do not want to stay behind in the Croat-Muslim federation.

    The Hague Court was formed so that Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Auschwitz , Dachau and Jasenovac, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Falklands and the Gulf would be forgotten about.... Or perhaps this court was established to facilitate a victory in upcoming elections for some politician, some politician in one of those bastions of democracy in the West. This court is in the Hague, and not a single Serbian plane has ever bombed the Hague, or Holland, and for that matter none ever will...

    Nin: NATO has your picture, and just like in those old cowboy films, they're looking for you. Is there a chance that they'll take you prisoner?

    Mladic: What they have to understand is that...the people shield me. What protects me is my honor, my integrity and my personal sacrifices in this war. In no way is it my intention to play hide-and-seek with NATO all over former Bosnia-Herzegovina...

    Nin: What kind of country are the Bosnian Serbs going to build in former Bosnia-Herzegovina?

    Mladic: We will build the kind of state the Serbs themselves want. We are going to be the masters in our own home. We are not looking for the international community to help us, but it doesn't have to oppress us either. We did not want to be slaves for the Ottoman sultan, the Austro- Hungarian emperor, nor for Hitler, and now we certainly do not want to be slaves of "the new world order" which [confronts] our people with tanks, planes full of napalm, radioactive bombs, and grenades. We wish to live freely and quietly on our own land. And we will not touch anybody, provided everybody leaves us alone...

    ....If we remain smart and united...and if we don't believe that our work is done, many of our areas can be returned. We are on our land. As long as we are united and so long as we are driven by a single idea -- to be ours in our own land -- then we shall succeed. In this war we were not united but were alone, apart from the fraternal help received from Serbia and Montenegro which salved the wounds of our children. To them at this juncture we convey our heartfelt thanks.

    Nin: What are your political ambitions and how long will you be at the head of the RS army?

    Mladic: Politics never attracted me, and I never had any military, never mind political, ambitions. I always wanted to be just an ordinary guy How long I'll be at the head of the army is for somebody else to decide. Without a doubt I shall stay on for as long as doing so is needed by my people.

    I was not prepared and I did not agree to comply with some dictates from the West...which suggested that I could be replaced. Since they did not make me, they can't replace me. And in the last place, it is the decision of my associates and of the military I command that I am still needed, that I can still serve -- by providing good advice, if through no other means. -- Stan Markotich

    Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved.

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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