Bosnia's peace process is back on track following a clarification of the "rules of the road" governing the detention of suspected war criminals, its architect said yesterday.
Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy who bullied the factions into signing the Dayton peace agreement, ended 48 hours of diplomacy in Bosnia and Serbia on an optimistic note, although he was still to visit Zagreb in an attempt to ease Croat-Muslim tensions in divided Mostar.
The latest crisis with the Bosnian Serbs, infuriated by the arrest of two senior officers in Sarajevo on suspicion of having committed war crimes, ought to calm down after a change of government policy on the detention of war criminals, Mr Holbrooke said. Sarajevo has agreed to submit a list of names to the international war crimes tribunal, and to arrest only those sought by the tribunal.
"We feel that a better understanding of what we call the rules of the road is now in effect. The tensions that have arisen in recent days should now begin to abate," Mr Holbrooke said.
The issue of war crimes has dogged not only the Bosnian Serb detainees, who include General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic, but also Nato's peace Implementation Force, I-For.
Its troops have the right to detain any of the 51 suspects indicted by the tribunal, including the Bosnian Serb military and civilian leaders, General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. But they have shied away from the prospect, for fear of disrupting their primary mission.
"I-For troops are not going to go out on a search-and-capture mission," Mr Holbrooke said. But his colleague John Shattuck, the senior US human rights official, added: "The international prosecution of war crimes and freedom of movement are consistent and they in fact are both core and critical elements of [the Dayton] agreement. As regards I-For, if there is an encounter there will be an arrest."
The arrests of Serbs in government territory discouraged some from travelling across the front lines. A Bosnian minister, Muhamed Sacirbey, said: "There will be no limitation on freedom of movement.
"Persons indicted by the international tribunal will be subject to arrest any time, anywhere, and once detained they will be transferred immediately to the custody of the tribunal upon its request."
Mr Holbrooke left Sarajevo yesterday to meet Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, who will be urged to control the extremists in western Mostar seeking to block the re-unification of the city, divided since the Muslim-Croat war in 1993. Last week Croats unhappy with the European Union administrator's plan to unite the city attacked his car and headquarters.