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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 29, 96-07-23

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 29, 23 July 1996


  • [03] . . . BUT THE MILITARY MAY NOT.


    U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN on 19 July that he has obtained an agreement in Belgrade to remove indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic from Bosnian Serb politics. Following a second and unexpected round of talks between Holbrooke and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Karadzic signed a text specifying that he will withdraw "immediately and permanently [from all] political activities," including public appearances and interviews as well as state and party offices. Holbrooke summed up the agreement by saying that Karadzic's "political career came to an end last night."

    In concrete terms, he has resigned the presidency of the Republika Srpska (RS) and will be replaced by Vice President Biljana Plavsic as "temporary acting president" until the 14 September elections. He will also leave the chair of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), to which position he had recently been reelected. His successor there will be Foreign Minister Aleksa Buha, who, like Plavsic, is known as a hard- line Karadzic loyalist.

    These formal changes nonetheless opened the way for the OSCE's administrator of the fall elections, Robert Frowick, to authorize the participation of the SDS in the vote. He had threatened to ban it from the ballot if it continued to have an indicted war criminal as chairman. For their parts, both Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic of the Party of Democratic Action (SDS) and Haris Silajdzic of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) had indicated they would boycott the elections if a SDS headed by Karadzic were allowed to stand. Holbrooke's agreement thus removed what had promised to be a major stumbling block to the fall poll.

    The question nonetheless remains as to whether the deal will stick. Holbrooke himself told CNN that he has "no guarantee" that the latest agreement will work. He noted that Karadzic could still exercise considerable power from behind the scenes in a Bosnian version of what he called the "Pol Pot problem." This refers to the fact that the Cambodian mass murderer withdrew from public life in the late 1970s but continued to control the Khmer Rouge through hidden channels.

    It should be noted, moreover, that the agreement makes things easy for Karadzic to continue to pull the political strings because it does not require him to leave the country. Some reports had suggested that Karadzic's departure from Bosnia had been part of Holbrooke's demands presented to the Serbs in tough negotiations. Other reports added that the Bosnian Serb leadership lined up solidly behind Karadzic in opposition to this demand, and this unity in Bosnian Serb ranks may have saved him from deportation.

    Yet another possible flaw in the agreement is that it does not contain a word about Gen. Ratko Mladic, who controls the Bosnian Serb military and is also an indicted war criminal. When questioned by CNN about this seeming omission, Holbrooke replied defensively that it is necessary to do things one step at a time as part of a "process." He seemed to be following the logic of the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt that each individual concession by the Serbs "brings Karadzic one step closer to The Hague."

    Perhaps the fundamental problem regarding the deal, however, is that the people with whom Holbrooke talked in Belgrade have made and broken agreements time and again. Karadzic has a well-established reputation as a habitual liar, as does his former mentor in Belgrade. Milosevic, moreover, had earlier signed the Dayton agreement on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs. That treaty is quite clear about banning indicted war criminals from politics, and about the responsibility of the signatories for enforcing its provisions. In short, no additional deal to clear Karadzic out of the way should have been necessary.

    Holbrooke seems to feel, however, that the Serbs will keep their word because they are fully aware of the "very serious consequences" they will face if they do not. This presumably means that they would be hit with renewed economic sanctions, the lifting of which was widely believed to be the incentive that brought Milosevic to Dayton in the first place. It is not clear, however, whether Washington could bring its allies around to agree to new sanctions if the Serbs balk.

    Holbrooke nonetheless seems pleased with the developments in Belgrade and told CNN that there is "a good chance of making this [agreement] work." He also noted that Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic will soon lead an economic delegation to Belgrade and claimed that this shows that Serbia is serious about its relations with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

    Doubts about Holbrooke's latest accomplishment will remain, however. This is primarily because he achieved simply another version of what he got at Dayton: an agreement with war criminals and liars in the hope that they will act in what Washington regards as their own economic self interest. And given the international community's reluctance to enforce the civilian provisions of Dayton, one cannot probably expect the foreigners to do very much should the "Pol Pot problem" emerge in the Republika Srpska. -- Patrick Moore


    That problem may, in fact, have already arrived, since Karadzic's supporters still clearly regard him as their leader, AFP reported on 22 July. Plavsic told Bosnian Serb radio on 20 July that "there will be no essential changes because the state and party policies were designed in a broader circle that is still in place," Nasa Borba noted on 22 July. Buha told Der Spiegel that "no one can destroy Karadzic's authority... There are examples of men without any official function who determine the fate of their country." -- Patrick Moore

    [03] . . . BUT THE MILITARY MAY NOT.

    But the Bosnian Serb military may not be as devoted to Karadzic as are the civilians. Mladic's deputy, Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, told NATO commander Gen. Sir Michael Walker that the army has been "indifferent" to Radovan Karadzic's removal as president. Tolimir added that the military have nothing to do with any threats of retaliation against NATO and UN personnel should they try to arrest Karadzic. The London Times on 22 July also reported that the International Crisis Group consisting of senior Western political figures issued a report after their staff visited Pale. They concluded that "the likelihood of violence if Karadzic is arrested is minimal." They also pointed out that "the long-term risks of leaving [Karadzic] at liberty outweigh the short-term risks of arresting him. As long as Karadzic is at liberty... the existing power structure will be unchanged." In other news, the Bosnian Serb leadership has told the International Police Task Force (IPTF) that their authorities will do their best to ensure the security of all international organizations working in the RS, Onasa reported on 22 July. -- Daria Sito Sucic and Patrick Moore


    In any event, Karadzic probably will not have to worry about U.S. troops coming to get him. Vice President Al Gore said on 21 July that "we don't believe that U.S. troops should be assigned the mission of going door-to-door hunting a single individual in circumstances where it would be very difficult to complete that mission." The chief justice of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Richard Goldstone, however, asked: "Having regard to the tens of thousands of lives that [Karadzic] may have been responsible for, is it too much to ask for some risk to be taken to bring him to justice?" Nasa Borba and Onasa carried the report on 22 July. -- Patrick Moore


    Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, for his part, will return to Belgrade this weekend, he told the BBC on 22 July. Kornblum's aim will be to convince Milosevic that Karadzic must be clearly "out of power, out of influence." The diplomat added that Karadzic will have to leave Bosnia and eventually wind up in The Hague, and that the new nominal Bosnian Serb leaders must be more cooperative with the international community than Karadzic was. This is indeed a tall order and, while in keeping with the Dayton agreement, goes well beyond the deal Holbrooke clinched the previous week. Washington may well be lucky to get Serbian cooperation in carrying out Holbrooke's package, let alone getting Karadzic to The Hague. -- Patrick Moore


    Turning to other examples of the failure to enforce the civilian provisions of Dayton, the UNHCR has accepted that Bosnia will remain "ethnically cleansed" and divided into three distinct entities, AFP quoted The Independent as saying on 17 July. An unpublished report concluded that only refugees who want to go to areas in which their ethnic group will form the majority should be given assistance. This will mean scaling down considerably projected budgets to help displaced persons go home, and that the UNHCR's own target will be reduced from assisting 870,000 people down to 135,000. The study also noted that virtually no refugees have gone home to areas outside their own group's control. The UN's conclusions reflect the unraveling of the Dayton agreement stemming from the international community's refusal to enforce the key principles of freedom of movement, the right of refugees to go home, and the endorsement of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single multi-ethnic state. -- Patrick Moore


    Also reflecting such developments, the spokesman for the UN's International Police Task Force, Alexander Ivanko, said that violence against Serbs in the Sarajevo suburbs is getting worse, Onasa reported on 16 July. He stressed that the Bosnian government is doing nothing about it although it has the means to do so and claims that it still believes in multi-ethnicity. There are 8,000 to 10,000 Serbs left and they resisted intimidation from other Serbs to force them to leave at the beginning of the year when the suburbs passed from Serbian to government control. The governing SDA has been accused by the opposition of trying to populate the suburbs with Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia and other Serb-held areas, thereby consolidating ethnic cleansing and the division of Bosnia into three nationalist states. -- Patrick Moore


    Some people from eastern Bosnia's best-known town, namely Srebrenica, blame the SDA leadership for their plight. Ibran Mustafic, who represents Srebrenica in parliament, told the independent biweekly Slobodna Bosna that the presidency and army general staff betrayed the "safe area" by "consciously" sacrificing it to the Serbs in July 1995, AFP reported. Mustafic accused the army of a tactical error when ordering the attacks against the Serbs to be made from within the safe area, thereby leading Srebrenica inhabitants "into a catastrophe... That was a conscious act giving the Serbs justification to attack Srebrenica," AFP quoted him as saying. Meanwhile, army commander Gen. Rasim Delic told Dnevni Avaz that the army in Srebrenica did not carry out instructions from headquarters to link the town with army-held territory. But Delic did not explain why 25 army officers were withdrawn from Srebrenica "for consultations" a month ahead of the enclave's fall, AFP pointed out. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Those who did not survive the fall of the town have been in the news, too. International war crimes investigators said on 18 July they have nearly finished exhuming some 150 bodies from a mass grave in Cerska which they began two weeks ago, international media reported. The site, which is a few kilometers northwest of Srebrenica, is believed to contain some of the as many as 8,000 Muslims killed by Serbs after the fall of Srebrenica. That same day a Bosnian Serb official appeared at the site for the first time since the exhumation began. Goran Neskovic, deputy justice minister of the Republika Srpska, looked shocked at the sight of bodies in an opened mass grave but refused to speak to reporters, international agencies noted. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Later, UN forensics and archeological experts started to exhume a huge burial site at the Nova Kasaba soccer field near Srebrenica on 22 July, Onasa stated. U.S. spy satellite photos had shown large amounts of disturbed earth in the area where survivors had reported mass executions a year ago. American diplomats said that as many as 2,500 Muslim males might be buried there, Nasa Borba noted, but the UN was reluctant to discuss figures at such an early stage. The experts nonetheless discovered bodies at the site almost immediately, the BBC reported. The soccer field could prove to be the largest mass grave in eastern Bosnia. -- Patrick Moore


    Turning to the elections, the OSCE has disqualified seven leading SDA candidates in Cazin in the Bihac pocket. The reason was that they were allegedly responsible for the incident in which former Premier Haris Silajdzic was injured (see ), Oslobodjenje reported on 15 July. Silajdzic's party said this punishment is too mild and would only encourage those opposed to a democratic climate in Bosnia. The SBiH also accused the Bosnian authorities of failing to remove those in responsible positions who had organized and committed the attack on Silajdzic. Meanwhile, the Cazin branch of the SDA criticized the OSCE decision, saying it shows the organization is biased against the SDA, Onasa reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    And with the advent of the elections, the politicization of the Bosnian military has again been in the news. Gen. Delic said that army officers who want to go into politics will have to leave military service first, Oslobodjenje reported on 17 July. According to a federal defense law, military officers serving on active duty are prohibited from participating in political activities, except for voting. The SDA nonetheless announced that at least two prominent army officers will be its candidates in September. These are Gen. Atif Dudakovic, commander of the 5th Corps based in the northwest Bihac region, and Mehmed Alagic, an ex-commander of the former 7th Corps based in central Bosnia. Dudakovic is on the SDA list for the Bosnian federation parliament, and Alagic is on its list for the Bosnia- Herzegovina parliament. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    As to purely military affairs, the IPTF has discovered 250 military-age Muslim men in the village of Dugi Dio in northeastern Bosnia, AFP and Onasa reported on 16 July. The number is about twice that of such men before the war. The Muslims abandoned the front-line village during the conflict but have now returned and engaged in what UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko called "preparations for combat. Vegetation has been cut away to give a clear line of vision, wrecked cars have been moved into strategic positions as barricades or firing points, and buildings bricked except for small holes." The Serb police expressed concern but have stayed out of Dugi Dio. In yet another case of the Dayton agreement coming unraveled, the IPTF has started night patrols in Stolac in Herzegovina to prevent Croats from damaging the repaired homes of Muslim refugees. Despite pleas from the UN, the Croats have not let Muslims come back and have not prevented vandalism to their homes. -- Patrick Moore


    But the federation is still holding up on paper, and paying dividends as well. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnian Federation President Kresimir Zubak, Federation Defense Minister Vladimir Soljic, U.S. special representative James Pardew, and retired U.S. Gen. Vernon Lewis on 16 July signed an agreement with a bottom-line total of $400 million in U.S. military aid, Reuters reported. The goal is to ensure a military balance between the Muslim- Croat federation and the Republika Srpska as specified in the Dayton agreement (see ). The "Equip and Train" Program will run for 13 months with the option of a one-year extension. All equipment is to be delivered before the NATO-led force mission in Bosnia expires in December 1996. The first consignment arrived in Croatia on 22 July before making the journey on to Bosnia, the VOA reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Meanwhile in Herzegovina's largest city, local SDA leader Hamdija Jahic said that new administrator Sir Martin Garrod is one of the EU's most experienced people, AFP reported on 16 July. Garrod is a former commando who served in northern Ireland, Borneo, Cyprus and the Falklands. He also speaks Serbo- Croatian, having arrived in Mostar in 1994. Jahic called him "a man of authority." By contrast, HDZ leader Mile Puljic expressed fears that Garrod "is a soldier by training and he could threaten the use of force or intervention from IFOR." Puljic also repeated the threat that the Croats will boycott the new city council unless allegations of ballot irregularities are cleared, even though Garrod had declared the ballot valid. Meanwhile, Dragan Ziga, an independent candidate in the Mostar elections, charged the HDZ with intimidating the opposition in west Mostar, Onasa reported on 17 July. Ziga said that "no one is allowed to utter a word against the ruling establishment in Mostar, because his life would be in danger." Ziga was beaten in west Mostar and since left the city. Finally, on 19 July, west Mostar police arrested the Muslim police chief from Jablanica while he was attempting to attend a IPTF meeting, Onasa reported. The Croats have linked him to crimes against Croats during the 1993 internecine conflict. The Croats nonetheless released him on 22 July following what the BBC called "maximum pressure" from the UN. -- Fabian Schmidt


    And there have been problems among the Croats themselves as well. Friar Luka Markesic withdrew from the Bosnian opposition Croat Peasants' Party (HSS) list of candidates after the Bishops' Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina asked him to do so, Onasa reported on 15 July. Markesic said that instead of forbidding its priests to oppose policies of the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the Church should have condemned "the fascistic part" of HDZ policy and encourage those clerics who wish to challenge it. In an interview with Feral Tribune, Markesic said the HDZ is not a democratic party that allows competition, which means that the elections in Herceg-Bosna will be only pro forma. Markesic said it is a sin that the Church is not interested in a just political solution for all Bosnian Croats, but instead supports only the HDZ, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 17 July. That same day the pro-government, Zagreb- based Vecernji list criticized Markesic for condemning fascism in the HDZ and charged him with being "emotional and politically blind." -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Within Bosnia itself, however, one of the top stories this week was the strike by medical workers that started on 15 July. They want higher salaries and substantial back pay for unpaid work during almost four years of the war, Oslobodjenje reported. Doctors demand that their present salaries of around $100 per month -- roughly the national average -- be raised to $335. The strike committee on 16 July said that 90 percent of the whole medical staff in Bosnia- Herzegovina, or some 12,000 people, went off the job except for handling emergency cases. But Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic said that strike will not improve their situation and that doctors are no worse off than any other professional group in the country. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Meanwhile in Serbia, about 100 Muslim refugees were evicted from their accommodations in the northern Serbian town of Crvenka and left to "take care of themselves," Onasa reported on 10 July, citing Belgrade's weekly Nedeljni Telegraf. Onasa also noted that local police authorities "took an old and blind woman to the village of Lipovac and left her on the street." Her case was reportedly not an isolated one. -- Stan Markotich


    On 17 July -- day 58 before the elections prescribed in the Dayton treaty -- the OSCE held a briefing for international non-governmental organizations and the diplomatic corps in Sarajevo. "We do not know whether we will have elections at all at this stage -- and this concerns mostly the situation in the Republika Srpska," claimed John Reid, a member of the Provisional Electoral Commission, in his opening statement. OSCE mission head Robert Frowick once again described the forthcoming elections as "probably the most complex and most complicated elections in history." On July 19 -- less then two months before the September 14 election date -- indicted war-criminal Radovan Karadzic was forced to leave his post in the SDS, paving the way for the OSCE to agree to SDS's participation in the elections (see above). It was clear that if the SDS had decided to boycott the elections, it would have been nearly impossible to have elections in the RS at all.

    With this obstacle apparently removed, at least two other and much less publicized issues still threaten to complicate the pre-election situation in Bosnia. First, developments involving the disputed Brcko area in northern Bosnia -- the size and fate of which are scheduled to be determined by international arbitration later this year -- are most alarming. The narrow so- called Brcko or Posavina corridor connects the eastern and western parts of the RS and is of vital strategic importance for both entities. Before the war, more then 80 percent of the population was Muslim. Major atrocities and nearly complete ethnic cleansing took place there at the beginning of the war in 1992.

    Since then, and most of all in the last six months, the Pale government settled tens of thousands of Serbian refugees from Bosnia and Croatia there in what a highly placed official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Sarajevo called "electoral engineering." The general framework for the Dayton agreement states that "a citizen who no longer lives in the municipality in which he or she resided in 1991 shall, as a general rule, be expected to vote in person or by absentee ballot in that municipality. Such a citizen may, however, apply to the commission to cast his or her vote elsewhere." In Brcko, the OSCE faces the entire set of worst-case scenarios. The prewar Muslim majority now in exile could elect a Muslim administration which would immediately be rejected by the present Serbian majority. Conversely, thousands of Brcko Muslims living just across the inter-entity boundary line could decide to go to vote in Brcko and be stopped by unfriendly Serbian newcomers.

    International arbitration should decide Brcko's fate after the elections, leaving the OSCE with the impossible task of assisting with elections on a disputed territory with unknown borders and thus, strictly speaking, an unknown number of voters. More and more OSCE officials are inclined to propose elections in the Brcko area only on the national level, postponing local elections until after arbitration. With neither side showing any willingness to compromise on Brcko, even this proposal may cause a major problem for the OSCE.

    The second explosive issue is the delay in refugee voter registration. With half of all eligible voters now living as refugees outside Bosnia, and half of those who stayed listed as internally displaced persons, it is no wonder that the OSCE had to postpone the voter registration deadline until 31 July. In neither of the three countries hosting most of the refugees from Bosnia -- rump Yugoslavia, Germany and Croatia -- is there a clear picture of how many eligible voters there are. Estimates from Serbia and Montenegro vary from 90,000 to 450,000. All this leaves a lot of room for political manipulation. The SDS rang an alarm in its statement of Friday, 19 July, inviting all patriotic Bosnian Serbs living in rump Yugoslavia to come to vote in person, to prevent "international manipulation aiming to help puppet and Muslim parties to destroy the Republika Srpska."

    On the same day, UNHCR special envoy Soren Jensen Petersen personally protested in Pale against what he called the "absolutely scandalous" refugee manipulation campaign in Doboj and Prijedor, where the official Red Cross of the Republika Srpska told the refugees that they will not get humanitarian aid if they do not register as voters in these towns. UNHCR thus confirmed reports that in official Republika Srpska Red Cross soup kitchens, refugees are asked to present voter registration forms instead of refugee cards. "Together with a massive media campaign and brainwashing in the refugee centers, it is no wonder that more than 80 percent of refugees in the RS declared that they do not wish to vote in their places of origin," said an OSCE official.

    In striking contrast, so far the absolute majority of Muslim refugees have expressed a wish to go to their places of origin -- now on the ethnically cleansed territory of the Republika Srpska -- to vote. Well-organized refugee pressure groups from Serb-held Srebrenica and Croat-held Capljina have sworn they will march on election day to their home towns to cast their votes, causing nightmares for the OSCE and IFOR officials in charge of security. In the first week of July, OSCE officials detected a sharp change of mood among Muslim refugees living on federation territory, especially those who were resettled in the past two months in Sarajevo suburbs. That is the result of a campaign organized by the SDA, thereby buying refugee votes to change the balance in Sarajevo, where until now a remarkable sympathy for opposition candidates has been shown.

    According to UNHCR sources, HDZ officials tried to convince the Croats living in small Muslim-surrounded enclaves in central Bosnia to move to ethnically cleansed Croatian regions in Herzegovina. The OSCE rightly points out that its task is to supervise but not to organize elections. With absolute control over the media in the Serbian and Croatian parts of Bosnia, and more-than- sufficient control over the state bureaucracies on all sides, all three ruling parties have made it very clear who is the real organizer of the elections. -- Jan Urban in Sarajevo

    Compiled by Patrick Moore

    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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