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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 34, 96-08-27

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

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 34, 27 August 1996


  • [07] IFOR UPDATE.


    The OSCE commission monitoring the 14 September elections in Bosnia- Herzegovina announced today that the municipal part of the ballot will be postponed to April or May of next year. This comes in response to evidence that massive pressure and coercion have been used on Bosnian Serbs in the Republika Srpska (RS) and especially in Serbia to register to vote in key towns that had large Muslim populations before the war but are now mainly Serb. While the postponement seems to extricate the OSCE from a series of difficulties for the moment, it potentially opens up a Pandora's box of new ones.

    The UNHCR yesterday was but the latest body to point out that the Serbs are using registration to consolidate the ethnic partition of the country, Oslobodjenje wrote this morning. It appears that up to 100,000 Bosnian Serb refugees have been "encouraged" to sign up to vote in towns like Srebrenica, Brcko, or Bijeljina at the risk of losing their humanitarian aid rations or of facing other unpleasant consequences. The governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) did this in keeping with its aim of preventing Muslims or Croats from reestablishing a foothold in areas from which they have been "ethnically cleansed." It also wants to bring all Bosnian Serbs into the RS as a prelude to realizing the party's frequently stated goal of a greater Serbia.

    The Serbs have not been alone in resorting to such electoral engineering. The Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) has urged refugees from Srebrenica and other eastern Bosnian towns to vote in the formerly Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo. Among the Croats, moreover, there is ample evidence that the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has been encouraging its people to resettle and register in areas that form a compact whole and border Croatia.

    What made the Serbs' actions stand out, however, was their magnitude and systematic nature. The SDS was able to do this because of one of the many contradictions inherent in the Dayton agreement. On the one hand, that document guarantees the right of refugees to go home and the right to freedom of movement in a multi-ethnic Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thanks to these principles, refugees may fill out the so-called P-1 form that enables them to vote in the place where they registered for the 1991 census, i.e. in their home area before they were ethnically cleansed. On the other hand, the treaty also allows people to register with the P-2 form, which permits them to cast their ballot in the place where they currently live or for a place where they intend to live in the future. It is this last point that the Serbs have apparently abused the most by recruiting large numbers of refugees in Serbia to claim that they intend to move to places like Srebrenica and hence ask to be allowed to vote in that town's municipal election.

    OSCE election supervisor Robert Frowick's decision today, however, may raise more problems than it solves. The municipal vote may have been put off until next spring, but six additional levels of elections are still slated for 14 September. Will these be at all affected by the registration imbroglio? Will the OSCE be able to save most of the electoral process by sacrificing part of it, or will the whole thing collapse? When the municipal ballot finally does take place, how will voters be allowed to register? Will the international community in the meantime finally get serious about enforcing freedom of movement and other basic Dayton principles, or will it continue the inaction and waffling that invite abuse in the this part of the world?

    And how will the parties react to the OSCE's announcement? The postponement probably means that the SDA will call off its threat to boycott the 14 September vote, but might not the SDS now launch its own boycott, since its leaders have repeatedly said that all levels of the elections must take place on time? This point was reaffirmed only yesterday by the acting SDS chief, Aleksa Buha, Nasa Borba wrote this morning. One might also ask what the entire affair says about the role in the Bosnian peace process of Serbia and its president, Slobodan Milosevic, on whose territory much of the wholesale coercion took place.

    And all this still leaves the question of who will organize, supervise, and provide security for the 1997 round. Most of the international presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina specified by the Dayton agreement is slated to wind up at the end of 1996, if not sooner. U.S. President Bill Clinton in particular seems opposed to any continuation of IFOR after that date.

    Will the international community "declare victory and withdraw" (to borrow the phrase from the Vietnam War) after the September vote -- and allow the three nationalist parties to run the 1997 elections? If so, why bother postponing the inevitable at all? -- Patrick Moore


    Regardless of when the vote takes place, there may be far fewer candidates running than the parties had expected. A statement issued by the OSCE says that the status of 8,000 out of the 28,000 declared candidates for the 14 September elections is in doubt because the individuals' names do not appear on the election rolls. Those rosters are based on the 1991 census, and hence it would appear that the 8,000 may have subsequently come to Bosnia from elsewhere. Two of the candidates are ineligible because they are indicted war criminals, AFP noted on 25 August. They are Dusko Sikirica (32) and Gojko Jankovic (41), who wanted to run in the municipal elections on the slate of the extremist Party of Serbian Unity. The OSCE has also ruled that 1,470 out of 5,010 of the SDA's candidates are ineligible because their names do not appear on the 1991 census rolls, Onasa noted on 26 August. Some 100 candidates of the opposition's Joint List, too, are out of the running, including two of its leaders, Zlatko Lagumdzija and Bogic Bogicevic. Lagumdzija responded in a letter that challenged the accuracy of the Provisional Election Commission's data. He noted that, according to their figures, he must be 340 years old, Oslobodjenje on 27 August quoted him as saying. -- Patrick Moore


    Still on the elections, the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt wrote to the acting president of the Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic, denying reports from Pale about an alleged agreement between his office and the Serbs, Nasa Borba reported on 27 August. According to the reports, Bildt had agreed to Serb demands that would limit cross-border freedom of movement on election day in violation of the Dayton agreement. The deal allegedly specified that voters could cross the border but only at 20 agreed locations and only in buses. Elsewhere, former prime minister and Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) leader Haris Silajdzic told the BBC that the confusion surrounding the vote is a legacy of the communist past, which will only go away with time. -- Patrick Moore


    Back on the stump, the HDZ officially launched its campaign on 25 August in Sarajevo, AFP reported. The party is the leading Croatian party in Bosnia- Herzegovina as well as in Croatia. Bosnian federal President Kresimir Zubak told 1,000 supporters at the sports center that "we have two homelands -- Bosnia and Croatia -- and we love and cherish them equally." He noted that Bosnia must be the home of Croats, Serbs, and Muslims alike. Meanwhile in Banja Luka, Bosnian Serb acting President Biljana Plavsic sounded a rather different note at an SDS rally, arguing for "a single Serb state" and ruled out any union with other nationalities. She slammed the idea of "unification with the Muslims and Croats," claiming that Bosnian Serbs "want the unification of all the Serbs of the Balkans in a single state called Serbia." Plavsic added that "there is an alternative to peace . . . The Serb nation and its state are more sacred than any peace." And in Croat-held Capljina, a local imam told a rally of the SDA on 24 August that "the Koran is our constitution. Jihad is our path, our salvation." -- Patrick Moore


    Nor does it appear that the imam is alone in believing that political goals should be pursued by non-political means. The UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Alexander Ivanko, said on 22 August that opposition parties' leaders and supporters are being increasingly intimidated by the ruling parties in the northern towns of Cazin and Teslic, Onasa reported. Along with eight explosions in the Bihac region during the previous week, three explosions were reported in Cazin on 22 August, all of them believed to be politically related and directed at supporters of opposition parties. The UN also received a letter from a local opposition party accusing the SDA of acts of intimidation in Cazin. Meanwhile in the Republika Srpska, a police unit controlled by the SDS took into custody a factory director in Teslic who headed the local opposition party. Ivanko said special Serbian forces continue to operate around the town, with city officials refusing to explain their presence. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    And the Croats, too, have come in for criticism. The OSCE said on 21 August that the HDZ has "seriously violated" the voter-registration procedure, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. The OSCE's Mostar office said that an HDZ official had illegally taken forms filled in by voters in Jasenica, south of Mostar, possibly intending to tamper with them. An OSCE appeals board had ordered the removal from office of the local electoral commission president, Vlado Bevanda, who had denied HDZ involvement in the matter despite evidence to the contrary. It also ordered the removal of Bevanda's name from the HDZ election list and the immediate termination of his candidacy for public office. The OSCE also fined the HDZ $10,000. That same day, officials from the two ruling parties in the Bosnian federation agreed that obstacles to the revival of that federation have been removed, Onasa reported. The SDA and the HDZ agreed to a more rapid institution of cantonal authorities and transitional municipal councils, but they failed to agree on a federal finance system and the status of the controversial state intelligence body known as the Agency for Research and Documentation. -- Daria Sito Sucic

    [07] IFOR UPDATE.

    NATO has been in the news, too. It announced on 24 August that it is banning until further notice all Bosnian army helicopter flights and the movement of Bosnian army troops into the sensitive Bihac pocket. On 22 August the army tried to move a convoy of newly-trained troops from Zenica into that area, where Muslim fought Muslim during the conflict. The following day the government army in four places tried to transport troops by helicopter in defiance of NATO rules, Reuters reported. IFOR also identified a series of potential troubles spots for election day and said it will beef up security there. The 12 towns are: Velika Kladusa, Brcko (see below), Doboj, Srebrenica, Prijedor, Fojnica, Jajce, Vitez, Busovaca, Kiseljak, Novi Travnik, and Stolac, Oslobodjenje reported on 25 August. Meanwhile, ground troops commander Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker told Dnevni avaz on 24 August that IFOR faces a potential danger from terrorists. He noted that a "weapons training center" exists near Fojnica on government-held territory and that Sarajevo is aware of it. To date, however, all of IFOR's 35 fatalities have been victims of accidents and not of attacks by any of the three local armies, he pointed out. -- Patrick Moore


    But NATO's best-known activities this past week centered on its destruction of previously unreported Bosnian Serb arms. IFOR continued Operation Volcano, which dealt with the weapons cache found in Margetici two weeks earlier (see ). According to Onasa reports, IFOR that day destroyed 36 tons of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines and other munitions in pits 27 meters wide and 7 meters deep. This was accompanied by Bosnian Serb protests against the IFOR operation. Plavsic, complaining that the arms are being destroyed at the same time as the Muslims and Croats in the Bosnian federation are being armed, proposed that IFOR instead sell the weapons or transfer the depot, AFP reported. As part of an aggressive media campaign, the Pale-based news agency SRNA alleged that the detonations have caused cracks in the walls of "the region's oldest church." Bosnian Serb officials' litany of complaints against Operation Volcano also includes allegations that the operation is jeopardizing underground water supplies and that IFOR has been dumping radioactive waste materials. Responding to the allegations, IFOR spokesman Maj. Max Marriner has said water sources are in no danger and IFOR is "not in the business of dumping radioactive waste," Onasa reported. In any event, Operation Volcano ended on 24 August. -- Stan Markotich and Daria Sito Sucic


    Questions have nonetheless arisen over what to do about an additional 16 sites declared by the Bosnian Serbs. Reportedly ten of those cites contain some 2, 600 tons of munitions similar to those discovered at Margetici. Suggesting that the additional munitions deposits may not be destroyed, Maj. Brett Boudreau has said that "all options are under consideration," Reuters reported on 21 August. Some speculation already centers on the possibility that IFOR may allow the Bosnian Serbs "to move the contraband to an already approved storage site," Reuters added. -- Stan Markotich


    Still in the Republika Srpska, IFOR troops have increased their control over goods and passengers and set up new checkpoints around the northern Bosnian town of Brcko, Onasa reported on 19 August. Brcko is becoming an increasingly important issue for both the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim-Croat federation. While Bosnian Serb leaders have said that "Brcko is more important for Serbs than peace," Bosnian federation officials and parties also underscore its significance for their side. The status of Brcko is to be decided by 14 December through arbitration, as specified in the Dayton agreement. The Brcko corridor is the only traffic artery connecting Bosnian Serbs in western parts of the country with those in eastern areas and with Serbia. Bosnian federation Vice President Ejup Ganic stressed that 56 percent of Brcko's prewar population was Muslim and that those forcibly expelled by Serbs should return to their homes. Ganic said the subject of arbitration is the whole area, including the town itself, and not just the contentious line of separation around the town, as Serbs claim. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Graham Blewitt, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, opened an office in Sarajevo on 22 August and announced that another would be opened the next day in Belgrade, Onasa reported. Blewitt said the tribunal's Sarajevo bureau will assist the international team arriving in Bosnia in early September to resume mass-grave investigations. He said the Belgrade office represents a major step forward, since the prosecutor's office has been trying to establish a base in that city since 1994. The Belgrade bureau will allow the war-crimes tribunal to investigate and gather evidence of atrocities committed against Serbs by talking to victims and witnesses now living in rump Yugoslavia (SRJ) or in the RS. Meanwhile, NATO officials on 22 August rejected as "wrong and groundless" accusations by Judge Richard Goldstone of the Hague-based tribunal that IFOR does not want to arrest Bosnian Serb leaders and indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, Onasa reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    The Belgrade connection has been in the news from Bosnia for other reasons, too. SRJ Deputy Premier Nikola Sainovic headed a trade delegation that met with Bosnian government officials on 26 August, Oslobodjenje reported. The mission was the first of its kind since the Bosnian war broke out in 1992. Returning a visit by a Bosnian trade group to the SRJ on 23 July, the delegates met with Bosnian Premier Hasan Muratovic and President Alija Izetbegovic, among others. Tanjug quoted Sainovic as saying that a consensus on several economic issues had been reached and that the rump Yugoslav national airline, JAT, may begin services to Sarajevo by next week. Muratovic commented that it had been agreed that experts would meet "to define a [joint] payments system and to define border crossings and procedures," Reuters reported. AFP observed, however, that no progress was made toward reaching an agreement on establishing diplomatic relations. -- Stan Markotich


    Turkey, for its part, has been evident as a player in the former Yugoslavia this week. Ankara plans to sell three Spanish-designed CASA CN-235 light transport aircraft to Croatia, the Turkish Daily News reported on 24 August. The deal to sell the planes produced by Turkish Aerospace Industries must now be ratified by Turkey's Defense Industry Executive, which will likely be a pro- forma exercise. The sale was announced after Turkish and Croatian officials met in Zagreb and concluded a military training agreement last week. Under the deal, Croatian cadets and officers will be trained at Turkish military academies and bases. During Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's state visit to Turkey in June, a framework agreement to do precisely this was signed. Meanwhile on 26 August, 223 Bosnian government troops began training with Turkish tank and artillery units near Ankara , AFP reported, quoting the Anatolia news agency. A previous group of 220 Bosnian soldiers had started a three-month course there in May. -- Lowell Bezanis and Patrick Moore


    But one of the week's biggest stories involved Croatia and the SKJ. Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic met with his rump Yugoslav counterpart Milan Milutinovic in Belgrade on 23 August and signed an agreement on normalizing bilateral relations. The two countries will establish "full diplomatic and consular relations... within fifteen days of the signing," including the exchange of ambassadors. But the deal itself leaves many questions unanswered. The document's full text has so far been released only by Zagreb, while Belgrade publicized only what it regards as the agreement's main points. The two versions -- as presented by local and international media -- differ on the two key issues: recognition of borders and the legal succession to Tito's Yugoslavia. This indicates that what both sides greeted as a "historic agreement" still must prove its viability.

    Succession is particularly important to Belgrade, which wants the former Yugoslavia's assets abroad and its seats in international organizations, as well as its political legitimacy. The agreement, according to Tanjug, observed that Zagreb had "accepted the state continuity of the SRJ and the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," noting that the outstanding issue of overall succession will be resolved by consensus. But the text as publicized by the Croatian government states that "taking into account the fact that Serbia and Montenegro existed as separate states before the creation of [the former] Yugoslavia... the Republic of Croatia recognizes the state continuity of the SRJ." This version thus makes no reference to the SRJ as the successor to Tito's state.

    On the other main issue, Zagreb insisted that Belgrade recognize its internationally accepted frontiers prior to normalization. While Zagreb claimed that the SRJ has agreed to do so "within the framework of the respective internationally-recognized borders," Belgrade observed that outstanding territorial questions -- such as the Prevlaka peninsula -- are to be handled within "the framework of negotiations and in the spirit of the UN Charter and good-neighborly relations." Obviously there is agreement only in principle, and concrete border questions are still subject to talks. (Prevlaka belongs to Croatia but controls access to the SRJ's only naval base. Tudjman is believed to be willing to swap it for Bosnian Serb territory behind Dubrovnik but has been blocked by Croatian public opinion.)

    Three commissions are to be formed in early September to deal with questions relating to borders, assets of the former Yugoslavia, and refugee issues. The need especially for the border commission shows that main issues remain unresolved and may pose big problems in the near future.

    The differing interpretations and the fact that Belgrade failed to publicize the complete text suggests at least that the SRJ has reservations about the meaning of the accord. At worst it may indicate that the government feels that the terms of the deal are too contentious for full presentation to the Serbian and Montenegrin publics.

    In fact, reaction in Belgrade did include outright condemnation and disgust. The ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) dubbed the deal "the biggest treason and capitulation that could ever happened to our country and our people." Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic blasted it, saying it represented nothing but Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's "personal policy at the expense of [our] entire nation." In Podgorica, the leader of the opposition People's Party of Montenegro (NSCG), Novak Kilibarda, said that Belgrade walked away from the deal "the big loser" and added that its hesitation to publish the full text "says a lot about the content of the accord."

    But it was Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic who emerged to underscore just how big a spin Belgrade may be placing on the meaning and text of the accord. In a 25 August interview with TV Montenegro, Bulatovic hailed the pact and stressed it was a breakthrough specifically because Croatia agreed for the first time to define the strategic Prevlaka peninsula as "a disputed issue." He added that this development signaled "we are coming to the stage where we can argue, using historical and other factors, that Prevlaka belongs to its hinterland." He added that for now Prevlaka belongs "to neither" Montenegro nor Croatia, as it remains monitored by UN observers. Bulatovic's interpretation in fact appears to fit a broader pattern: on 27 August Nasa Borba suggested TV Montenegro news reports on the deal have "falsified" accounts of the agreement, claiming its text paved the way for Belgrade's territorial claims against Prevlaka.

    In Zagreb, reactions were comparatively muted. The official press approvingly quoted Granic's statements calling the treaty "a breakthrough," etc.. The opposition Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), however, noted that "this process is fraught with unnecessary haste. We do not think the agreement should set no conditions for [Belgrade]." Croatian nationalists also focused on the speed with which an agreement was reached, suggesting the accord gives little or no time for wounds to heal. Columnist Srecko Jurdana thus wrote that "the normalization comprises a handshake over Croatian graves and the destruction of Croatian culture." -- Stan Markotich and Stefan Krause


    Moving on to Kosovo -- which many observers fear could be the site of the next violent Balkan conflict -- Nasa Borba on 26 and 27 August published a series of interviews with prominent ethnic Albanian and Serbian politicians. The series is taken out of a book that appears under the title Kosmet or Kosovo: A Serbian Jerusalem or an Albanian Piedmont?, and which focuses on possible conditions under which a dialogue may start. The interviews are, however, hardly optimistic. The deputy leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Fehmi Agani, repeated the Albanian position that any solution should include an independent state of Kosovo open to both Serbia and Albania. He ruled out the idea of only restoring autonomy to the region, saying that such an idea was ill-conceived. The Serbian side, however, repeated its charges that the shadow-state government had secessionist aims. The governing Socialist Party of Serbia's (SPS) leadership member and legislator Zivorad Igric charged the Albanians of striving for a Republic of Kosovo with the aim of "eliminating Serbia in the heart of Europe." Concerning a possible compromise, he said that the SPS "did everything to disabuse the Albanian national minority of the illusion in which the Albanian separatists pushed it," thereby putting the blame for a continuing lack of dialogue on the Albanians. The former head of the Kosovo League of Communists (SKJ) Mahmut Bakalli pointed out, however, that a plan for a "greater Albania," as alleged by Serbian politicians, does not exist among the mainstream Kosovar Albanians. While Bakalli would not rule out the possibility of a division of Kosovo, both the LDK and Borislav Jovic, an SPS legislator and former head of the federal Yugoslav Presidency, rejected the idea. -- Fabian Schmidt

    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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