Contact nations split on planning arrests

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The Independent Online
Brussels - A year after Europe's worst war atrocity since 1945, the major powers are squabbling over how to bring the two men held most responsible for the carnage in Srebrenica to justice.

A dispute over how to detain the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military strongman General Ratko Mladic has split the five-nation contact group in a re-run of earlier disputes now blamed for leading to the massacres.

"It is the usual mess," a European diplomat said.

He was speaking after representatives of the United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain issued another bland statement after meeting in London yesterday, which stressed the need to remove the two men from political life. There were no suggestions on how this could be done. Diplomats said old faultlines, with the Americans urging a more muscular approach and the Europeans expressing caution, had reemerged and blocked any consensus.

"Frankly, it was the worst contact group since 1994 at the height of the transatlantic rows over air strikes," a military analyst close to the talks said.

Ironically, those differences were largely ended by the Serbs' over-running of the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica - an act of such defiance of the international community that it led to a united policy towards Bosnia's Serbs for the first time.

The dispute surfaced this week after Robert Frowick, responsible for organising the first post-war elections in Bosnia, threatened to bar Mr Karadzic's ruling Bosnian Serb Democratic Party (SDS) from them.

Mr Karadzic, an indicted war criminal, remains party leader. Although he retains his title as Bosnian Serb president, he has theoretically handed over his powers and functions to his deputy.

That was good enough for Carl Bildt, the international community's representative for Bosnia, who says the elections must go ahead to keep up the momentum of the civilian aspects of the Dayton peace accords.

"If you bar the SDS, the elections are meaningless," a Bildt supporter said. "The Serbs will see us even more as against them and local unrest and non-compliance [with Dayton] could easily follow." But Mr Frowick, head of the Bosnia office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, takes a harder line. Under Dayton, no one indicted by the Hague war crimes tribunal may participate in the elections. Mr Frowick said he planned to "use the powers at (his) disposal" to block the SDS as long as Mr Karadzic wielded any power at all.

The US state department backs Mr Frowick while Paris and London have fallen in behind Mr Bildt. Germany has sided with the United States.