Balkan leaders signed a landmark arms control agreement Friday at a Bosnia peace conference, where more than 40 nations also recommended that national elections be held Sept. 14 despite the continued presence and power of war crimes suspects.
After last-minute arm-twisting by American delegates, representatives of the former Yugoslav federation agreed to a wide range of measures that cap the numbers of tanks, fighter aircraft and heavy weapons permitted throughout the war-scarred region.
“It is extremely far-reaching and complex, negotiated in a fraction of the time [that similar agreements] have been negotiated in other fora,” said acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, who shepherded parts of the accord. “It reduces military levels throughout the region,” including Croatia and the rump Yugoslavia.
Arms control is a pillar of the U.S.-brokered peace accord that ended Bosnia’s 43-month war in December.
The agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio, stopped the fighting but also called for sweeping long-term changes, including ethnic reconciliation, the building of democratic institutions and the return home of nearly 2 million refugees.
Delegates here for a six-month review of the peace in Bosnia recommended that elections be held on Sept. 14, in line with Dayton’s timetable, as a crucial step in stitching Bosnia back together--even if conditions for a “free and fair” vote do not exist.
The principal unfulfilled condition that haunted the two-day conference was the continued influence of Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, both of whom have been indicted twice on genocide charges.
Ignoring demands by the head of the U.N. war crimes tribunal and Muslim leaders, the conference issued a mildly worded call for Karadzic to “remove himself from the political scene” and merely hinted at the use of economic sanctions. The Sarajevo government’s call for a deadline on that removal was rejected.
Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, who chaired the conference, said that expunging Karadzic and Mladic is essential but will not be a prerequisite to elections.
Bosnia’s prime minister, Hasan Muratovic, called on the international community to do more to improve conditions before the elections.
“Either free elections or free war criminals,” Muratovic said. “Both cannot be free.”
The 60,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia maintains that its mandate does not include the pursuit of war criminals.
The decision Friday to go ahead with elections came even as Bosnian Serbs dug in their heels over their indicted leaders.
Bosnian Serb delegates not only reiterated their refusal to turn Karadzic over to the tribunal at The Hague, they said Karadzic might even run in upcoming elections if his schedule allows.
Describing Karadzic as a “democrat in his soul,” Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic said the self-declared president will decide whether to run in future elections.
Under the Dayton agreement, indicted war crimes suspects cannot run for office in Bosnia or appear on ballots.
International monitors predict that the nationalist parties that led Bosnia to war and that now rule will likely be reelected in any voting.
“We can’t wait for elections,” said one member of the Bosnian Serb delegation and a close advisor to Karadzic. “We will be fully legitimized.”
The Serbs also used the sessions at the Florence conference, which were closed to the press and public, to attack Carl Bildt, civilian administrator of the Dayton peace accord, and Antonio Cassese, the judge who presides over the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.
One Bosnian Serb leader rose to demand that Cassese be “excommunicated.”
Another accused Bildt of “waging war” against the Bosnian Serb people, according to delegates who attended. And yet another presented Cassese with a pamphlet demanding that charges against Karadzic be dropped.
Cassese has been a solitary voice in speaking out forcefully against Karadzic and Mladic. He took the lone position that the alleged war criminals be arrested as a prerequisite to elections.
He admitted disappointment that his demands did not have much echo but said he was gratified that he was able to stir debate.
“Sometimes you have to be the cat among the pigeons,” he said.
In Washington, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake acknowledged that conditions for free elections do not exist now in Bosnia. But he quickly added that the situation could change dramatically by September.
“If you took a snapshot of Bosnia,” he told a group of faculty and students at Georgetown University, “would it show that conditions for elections exist right now? The answer is no. But that’s the wrong picture to look at.
“Our focus should be on whether these conditions will exist by Sept. 14,” he said. “And if you switch from still frames to moving picture and pan three months down the road, very different images of Bosnia will begin to unfold.”
Lake said those images “would show people taking small, steady steps every day to put in place the mechanisms for free and fair elections.”
On June 27, the war crimes tribunal will begin a public evidentiary hearing regarding Karadzic, at the conclusion of which Cassese may ask Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant for the Bosnian Serb leader.
The arms control agreement was hashed out in recent weeks in Vienna and was scheduled to be signed last Monday in Oslo when the Muslim-led Bosnian government suddenly objected to the status given to the Bosnian Serb Republic as a signatory.
The Muslims backed down Friday, and the signing took place here.
American negotiators said the agreement will bring stability to the region by forcing the well-equipped Serbs and Croats to destroy some weaponry, while the Muslims, soon to receive weapons and training from the United States, will be allowed to enlarge their arsenal.
Times staff writer Stanley Meisler in Washington contributed to this report.
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Limits of Weapons
A key arms control pact signed Friday limits the former foes to the following weapons:
Bosnian Federal Republic Republic gov./Bosnian of Yugoslavia* of Croatia Croat federation Tanks 1,025 410 273 Armored vehicles 850 340 227 Artillery 3,750 1,500 1,000 Combat aircraft 155 62 41 Attack helicopters 53 21 14
Bosnian Serbs Tanks 137 Armored vehicles 113 Artillery 500 Combat aircraft 21 Attack helicopters 7
* Consists of Serbia and Montenegro