Balkan Leaders Give OK for Bosnia Elections
The presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia agreed Sunday to go ahead with Bosnian elections by mid-September even if indicted war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic remain at large.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher persuaded Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to drop his earlier demand that the two Bosnian Serb leaders be arrested and sent to the international tribunal at The Hague for trial before elections are held. The U.S.-brokered agreement that ended Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war stipulated that all war crimes suspects be removed from power.
In a sharp disappointment to the secretary of state and his aides, Christopher failed to win a commitment from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to bring his onetime proteges to justice.
Christopher said that he told Milosevic “it is not good enough” to promise that the pair will eventually be removed from power and that he warned the Serbian leader that international economic sanctions can be reimposed on his country if he doesn’t cooperate in arresting the pair. But when asked when that might be done, Christopher said, “I’m not in the business of establishing deadlines.”
Although Izetbegovic said before the meeting began that there would be no elections unless Karadzic and Mladic were sent to The Hague, he later signed a statement that called the balloting “the most important next step in the peace process.”
“He realizes the importance of setting the date and assuring that conditions are ready for free and fair elections,” Christopher said in explaining how he was able to persuade the Bosnian Muslim leader.
Under the peace accord reached last year in Dayton, Ohio, elections are to be held by Sept. 14. Christopher said a firm date probably will be set later this month.
Christopher met separately with Izetbegovic, Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in a daylong series of meetings that U.S. officials said were intended to keep pressure on the former antagonists to abide by the Dayton accord that ended 3 1/2 years of war in Bosnia.
Speaking at a late-night news conference, Christopher also said the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia is ready to step up its efforts to guarantee freedom of movement for Bosnian citizens--a key provision of the Dayton accord--and to apprehend those indicted on war crimes charges.
Although Christopher insisted that those efforts would not expand the peacekeepers’ mission, which began in December, he said the force will increase its patrols throughout Bosnia. He said the international troops have completed most of the purely military aspects of their mission, which “gives them more resources and more time to accomplish other missions.”
He said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led troops will not actively search for war crimes suspects but will arrest any they encounter.
In a step that seems intended to bolster opponents of Karadzic in the Bosnian Serb leadership, Christopher also announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development will open an office in Banja Luka, the largest town in Bosnia under Serbian control and the stronghold of Bosnian Serbs whom U.S. officials consider rivals to Karadzic. The Bosnian Serb leader maintains his headquarters in Pale, a suburb of the capital, Sarajevo.
Karadzic and Mladic have been taunting the international community by making regular public appearances. Last month, for instance, army commander Mladic attended a funeral in Belgrade, the Serbian and Yugoslavian capital.
The planned increase in patrols by the international peacekeepers should restrict the two men’s travel and leave them under virtual house arrest, officials said.
But Christopher’s primary objective in calling the Balkan presidents to Geneva was to underline the U.S. determination that elections be held regardless of reports of human rights violations, illegal roadblocks, restrictions on media freedom and other impediments in Bosnia.
“It will not be possible to have pristine, Western European- or North American-style conditions for elections” after years of bloody ethnic war, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.
Christopher said Milosevic, Tudjman and Izetbegovic pledged a series of moves intended to establish the conditions needed for elections. For the first time, he said, each side agreed to recognize the validity of identity documents and media credentials issued by the others.
The three presidents also agreed to support a planned Bosnia-wide television station to be sponsored by the international community.
In a separate news conference, Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister who is responsible for the implementation of civilian aspects of the Dayton accord, agreed that elections must be held on schedule even if ideal conditions cannot be created. Without elections, he said, there is no chance of ever reuniting the divided country.
“The longer elections are delayed, the more difficult it will be to overcome the division of Bosnia,” Bildt said.