"Nasa Borba" (English) - Stepping stone for new sanctions

Saturday-Sunday, June 8-9, 1996


Stepping stone for new sanctions

The Belgrade-Pale game of hide and seek with the international community continues despite the Geneva Summit. All moves indicate that the usual recipe is being used again: hinder and procrastinate as much as possible until the current Serbian regime is confronted with a deadline, i.e., an ultimatum, after which all conditions will be quickly accepted with, of course, considerably more detrimental consequences.

By: Ivan Torov

The President of the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, Mr. Antonio Cassese, announced in Sarajevo that next week at the Bosnia Summit in Florence he will suggest to Carl Bildt that the UN Security Council reimpose the recently suspended sanctions on the Republic of Srpska and "probably" Serbia and Montenegro for their refusal to extradite indicted war criminals and cooperate with the tribunal.

Amidst the plethora of somewhat euphoric reactions to the latest "close encounter" of the Contact Group with key players of Bosnian crisis in Geneva, Mr. Cassese's open indication of tougher actions against Pale and Belgrade demonstrates that the speculations about a turnover in the resolution of Bosnian quagmire were premature. Moreover, it remains to be seen in the following days if Milosevic (with his persistent optimism) will deliver on the promises he made to Warren Christopher in Geneva, or whether the entire affair will amount to yet another (un)successful Belgrade attempt at manipulating the international community. It is clear for now that Cassese, during his visit to Belgrade, did not obtain firm assurances from the Serbian side that they will keep their part of the bargain. On the contrary, apart from the readiness to establish a branch office of the War Crimes Tribunal in Belgrade, Cassese was faced with a barrage of well-known excuses how the Yugoslav judicial system prohibits extradition, suspected war criminals will be tried in Belgrade, foreign nationals (Karadzic and Mladic) cannot be extradited, the legislation about the cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal is being developed (even though no one has ever caught a glimpse of it).

The Belgrade-Pale game of hide and seek with the international community continues despite the Geneva Summit, and all the moves suggest that a well-known approach is being used again: hinder and procrastinate as much as possible, until the Serbian regime is confronted with a deadline, i.e., an ultimatum, after which all conditions will be accepted with, of course, consequences far more damaging than if a timely and definite cooperation was forthcoming in the first place. In his gambling with the accepted obligations, Milosevic typically counts on a potential shift in the power balance in the international community, outcome of Russian presidential elections, and clumsy moves by other (Bosnian) parties; however, everything in the end will amount to yet another misjudgement of Belgrade authorities and a recognition that, with each passing day, the Serbian side is left with less room to maneuver.

Milosevic's subterfuge to "label" Ms. Biljana Plavsic as acting President of the Republic of Srpska not only failed but turned out to be a comical affair when, in the end, Ms. Plavsic was almost removed from the airplane headed for Geneva by Mr. Milutinovic, Foreign Secretary of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). The maneuver with Karadzic's putative sealed resignation fared no better, and it now remains to be seen what the next move will be. The removal of Karadzic and Mladic from power is obviously not progressing as originally planned, which leaves room for numerous speculations. It is possible that the Serbian President eschews a final showdown with the tough Pale faction for fear of diminishing his election prospects in Bosnia, as well as Yugoslavia and Serbia. It is also possible that what we have is a sly attempt to keep Karadzic in the game, hoping that he might provide Milosevic with an alibi if the peace initiative fails. Needless to say, Milosevic would get a big boost if the Bosnian crisis resolution were to move forward with Karadzic still in power, which would, in all fairness, be a rather dubious assumption.

Irrespective of what Milosevic's goal is, it is clear that the confusion in the Belgrade-Pale relationship benefits only the extremists in the leadership of the Republic of Srpska (RS). With his delay tactics, the Serbian president contributed to Karadzic's rise in prominence by allowing him to consolidate power and continue to pull the strings from deep undercover. The latest estimates indicate that the Serbian Democratic Party (SDP) managed, after not so trivial crisis, to consolidate its ranks and remain a favorite in the forthcoming elections in RS. With or without Karadzic, SDP stands a good chance of securing an international legitimacy in September. In combination with the anticipated election successes of the (Moslem) Party of Democratic Action and Croatian Democratic Union, the SDP revival will only deepen the Bosnian crisis and push it further away from a peaceful resolution.

What would suit Milosevic in such a case? Unless he is soon forced, as Cassese announced, to turn over the war criminals from Pale together with his own well before the elections, or at least offer some credible evidence that Karadzic and Mladic have been permanently removed from the Bosnian political scene, Milosevic will strive to make every conceivable election outcome fit his plans. Consequently, if they agree to cooperate with Belgrade, both Karadzic and Krajisnik would be acceptable, perhaps even more so than the prospect of Milosevic's own party winning the elections as the Socialist Party of the Republic of Srpska. Karadzic's cooperation (or the lack of it) could be a bonus for Milosevic if the peace process takes hold, or, at the same time, an excuse if the Bosnian crisis hits a new low. A possible victory of the Socialists in Banja Luka would implicate Milosevic as the sole responsible party in future dealings with the international community.

All these speculations could easily become defunct because of the circumstances over which Milosevic has an indirect influence. The Bosnian Moslems openly indicated that they would boycott the elections unless Karadzic and Mladic are extradited to The Hague. The international community insists on the election deadline agreed upon in Dayton, and is again toughening its position toward the Serbs. Even the Russians sided with the opinion that the removal of Pale leaders is a prerequisite for free and democratic elections in Bosnia. Clinton needs the Bosnian September elections so that he could convince the American nation before his November showdown with Dole that the Bosnian peace mission was a success and that the American soldiers will return home safely and on time. Europe is also fed up with Bosnia, and anxiously awaits the election outcome, hoping that its resources can finally be diverted to other more pressing needs. Everyone, including even the warring factions in Bosnia, seems to be in favor of the September elections. However, the key arbitrators Bildt, Smith, Cote, and Frowick are becoming ever more worried because, aside from good will, not a single significant prerequisite for free and democratic elections has been fulfilled. There is growing fear that the lack of radical changes and improvements of Bosnian every-day reality will only further the cause of those political powers that started the war and caused such a deep internecine confrontation.

If the chances for truly free elections were to be evaluated today on the basis of certain factors---the influence of Karadzic and Mladic and other extremists present in all three national parties; delays and uncertainties with the return of refugees; obstruction of the freedom of movement; full control that the current nationalistic regimes have over their corresponding armies, militias, legislatures, and especially media; lack of progress on Bosnia's reconstruction; and suspicious dealings of Milosevic, Tudjman, and Izetbegovic---then the chances are very slim indeed. The optimism that followed the Geneva Summit will most certainly fade away when it is realized that there is too little time left for any fundamental changes in Bosnia till September.

Aphorism of the Week

We believed in Him, and he believed in us. Frankly speaking, he didn't miscalculate.

Ilija Markovic

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