U.S. mediators extracted a new promise from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic on Friday to rid his country of foreign Islamic fighters and to do more to reassure Sarajevo Serbs who fear the prospect of coming under government rule.
Izetbegovic told U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke that he will make a greater effort to convince Serbs that they will be safe when the peace accord reached last month in Dayton, Ohio, restores Serb-held suburbs of the capital to control of the Muslim-led government. Many of the Serbs in those areas say they will fight or flee but never accept Muslim authority.
The agreement also requires Bosnia--as well as the other signatories, Croatia and Serbia--to remove all foreign military forces from the region. U.S. officials, concerned about the presence of at least 2,000 Islamic soldiers from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere, sought a pledge that Bosnia will comply within 30 days of the signing of the accord in Paris on Thursday.
The presence of fundamentalist Islamic fighters, known as moujahedeen, became an issue in Washington in recent weeks after Pentagon and other administration officials cited the fighters as a potential threat to U.S. troops who will enforce peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Even with U.S. pressure, it is not clear how Izetbegovic intends to carry out his promise because he probably feels indebted to Islamic forces who were among the few people in the world who helped arm and train the Bosnian army despite an international arms embargo.
Of more serious danger to the peace process, however, is the resistance from Sarajevo Serbs to life under the authority of their former enemy.
Holbrooke and Izetbegovic said that the Bosnian Serb residents do not fully understand the terms of the agreement but that once they do, they will feel more secure.
"They are influenced by propaganda," Izetbegovic said after his meeting with Holbrooke. "We will be sending strong messages to the Serb population that they will be fully secure."
But in the Serbian suburbs and districts around Sarajevo, Serbs said they cannot trust Izetbegovic's promises. The president has suggested that Bosnian Serb soldiers will face punishment for having fought against the government, and this terrifies many Serbian families.
"If you listen to Muslim television, they are saying that all Serbs are allowed to stay," said Ljiljana Santic, an official with the town administration of Grbavica, a Serbian suburb of Sarajevo. "But if you listen to the radio stations, you hear so many statements that threaten us. They do not want the Serb population to stay here."