Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Britain gets tough on Bosnian war crimes... by sending one bobby

Its leaders had boasted that they would take tough action to crack down on the war criminals in former Yugoslavia. And yesterday the West showed what it meant by getting serious.

In Britain's case, one one extra detective will be sent to join the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. That was the deal agreed at the international conference on Bosnia which ended in London yesterday.

Britain will also send up to 30 police officers to join the International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia itself, but their role is only to investigate war crimes and other abuses committed by local police.

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, described the two-day conference as "successful", stressing that in the year since the last London conference, no one in Bosnia had been killed as a direct result of hostilities. But even he admitted there were still areas where there had been "a depressing lack of progress".

In past years, British official assessments have been notable for their casual optimism: at the time of a dead-end London conference on Yugoslavia in 1992, British officials proclaimed a "diplomatic triumph" because, allegedly, Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian President, and the Bosnian Serbs found themselves under such international pressure. In reality, the Bosnian war was only beginning.

Speaking beside Carl Bildt, the High Representative responsible for the helping to rebuild the Bosnian economy and putting a Western-style democracy in place, Mr Rifkind stressed practical measures to "kick start" the transformation of Bosnia. To ensure they happen, the 41-page document issued yesterday afternoon is replete with "conditionality" - denying aid to what are now known as the "authorities" in Bosnia, rather than the "former warring factions" - unless they fulfil the undertakings they have made.

This represented a significant change from the position over the last year when it was almost automatically assumed that the international community would provide support and funds to rebuild Bosnia after three- and-a-half years of being torn apart. Baroness Chalker, Minister for Overseas Development, said $1.9bn (pounds 1.2bn) had been pledged, of which $350m had been spent, but further funds will be conditional on increased local co- operation. She insisted, however, that "conditionality is not blackmail".

The events in neighbouring Serbia were not on the conference agenda but both Mr Rifkind and Mr Bildt said they were very concerned and had let it be known to the foreign minister of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Milan Milutinovic, that they wanted a halt to the repression of opposition parties and the media. Mr Milutinovic had told Mr Bildt that the independent radio station B92, recently closed down, would soon be back on the air. "That is good but we need to see it, or should I say hear it before we believe it," Mr Bildt said.

The conference agreed to increase pressure on the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other neighbouring states to co-operate fully with the war crimes tribunal in the Hague and to provide "additional resources to enhance information sharing and increase information gathering". The final report continued: "The provision of economic reconstruction assistance is closely linked to co-operation in this area. The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are reminded that their obligations under international law take precedence over any provisions in their local or national legislation."

Mr Rifkind said he would be "very dissatisfied" if Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic were not brought to justice in the next year.

Until now, Western governments have shown little inclination to lay hands on the war criminals, despite the best efforts of the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. But Mr Bildt insisted that the peace implementation force, I-For, which becomes the stabilising force S-For on 20 December, could arrest indicted war criminals in future.

Senior Nato officers said yesterday that if the tribunal or the local authorities let them know what they wanted in detail, they would help. However, as one officer said, "soldiers are not good policemen".

All parties agreed to re-establish an integrated telephone system. It is currently impossible to call Pale in the Serb half of Bosnia from Sarajevo in the Muslim-Croat area. They also agreed a single system of car number plates. At present all three former warring factions have distinctive plates, which identifies a vehicle's origin and inhibits freedom of movement. There is to be integrated air space and a Bosnia-wide system of buses and railways.