Bosnia deal fraying as leaders head for Rome

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The Independent Online


The military machinery may be quiet, but with the crackle of dissent rising on the political front in Bosnia and all three parties in violation of the Dayton peace plan, its authors have summoned the region's presidents to a summit in Rome tomorrow in the hope of restoring calm.

The agreement looks shaky on several fronts: tension is high around Sarajevo, where Serbs in suburbs reverting to government rule have made their displeasure known through gunsights; Nato, already in bad odour with them for allowing the Bosnian government to arrest several Serb soldiers and allowing two high-ranking officers to be carted off to the international war crimes tribunal, has now been forced to adopt a more robust attitude to the explosive issue of war crimes; and to the south-east, Croatian intransigence in the divided city of Mostar threatens to sink the agreement.

Not all the news is bad: the civilian mission yesterday announced plans for the phased introduction of Bosnian police in the Serb suburbs and the creation of local councils with Serb representation. But implementing the plans peacefully will require more goodwill and more efficiency than has been shown recently.

Sniping in Ilidza against Nato's Implementation Force (I-For) and on Wednesday against a busload of civilians - and reactions, or lack of them, to it by I-For, the International Police Task Force and the Bosnian Serb police - illustrates the dangerous vacuum of authority within the Serb suburbs that are reverting to government rule.

Nato is so paranoid about "mission creep" that a spokesman refused to admit any link between the shooting and I-For's duty to keep weapons out of the zone of separation.

Nato spokesmen blame sniping attacks on unhinged individuals angered by the official desire to conform to Dayton. Given the nature of life in Ilidza, a police statelet, "They should be able to stamp out any dissent among their ranks," one official with long experience in the area said. I-For's assessment may also be hampered by the absence of communication with any high-ranking Serb officers for more than a week.

The international police force, which has received only 250 of the 1,700 policemen pledged by foreign governments, cannot conduct investigations or make arrests. It has the right to enter all detention centres, but has been unable to visit Hidjeta Delic, a Bosnian photographer arrested more than a week ago by the Serbs in another Sarajevo suburb, or to win the release of prisoners of war held by all sides.

I-For, which has been authorised to arrest 51 suspects indicted by the war crimes tribunal but was loath to do so for fear of jeopardising its military mission, has agreed to issue photos of suspects so that troops are better equipped to identify any they see.

On the civilian side, the office of Carl Bildt, the High Representative, has maintained its contacts with the Serbs, but has still failed to persuade them to return to talks with the Bosnian Federation. However, Michael Steiner, Mr Bildt's deputy, said local Serbs were beginning to realise that the boycott was backfiring, as it left them powerless to register complaints or make suggestions.

All three sides are violating the Dayton agreement. The government is still holding PoWs and interfering in freedom of movement; ditto the other two parties. The Serbs are also refusing to talk to I-For, failing to surrender war criminals and failing to halt attacks on civilians and I- For. The Croats in west Mostar are violating virtually every political aspect of the peace deal.

Hence the summit, at which the Americans will brutally twist the arms of Presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia. "They want public pledges [from the three] to get their constituents in Bosnia back in line, especially the Serbs and Croats, but also the Muslims," a diplomatic source said.

The pressure applied will be mostly financial: the threat of sanctions versus economic aid in Belgrade, military and economic aid to Zagreb, and reconstruction plus the training and equipping of the army for Sarajevo. "The Americans have succeeded before, I don't see any reason why they are going to fail this time," the source said.