Serbs defy summit edict to rejoin talks

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The Independent Online


Serb military leaders, defying their political masters who emerged from the Rome summit claiming the Bosnian peace process was back on track, yesterday failed to attend a vital meeting with their former enemies and with Nato. At the same time, in the suburbs around Sarajevo, Serb police ignored an invitation to join a united police force.

General Zdravko Tolimir, deputising for his boss, Ratko Mladic, indicted for war crimes, failed to show up at Sarajevo airport to catch a Nato plane bound for the USS George Washington in the Adriatic. Nato officials left telephone messages at his office, and at 4.15pm, when the meeting was over, Gen Tolimir called to say he was ready to leave.

"The Republic of Srpska is in contravention of the Dayton peace agreement and the agreements made at the Rome summit this weekend," said a statement by Nato's implementation Force (I-For).

"It was not wise and extremely unfortunate," said Admiral Leighton Smith, I-For's commander. "I can tell you first hand that his political masters wanted him here ... it is unconscionable they are not here."

Admiral Smith added, however, that Gen Tolimir's call suggested there had been a change of heart, and that Gen Tolimir and his men would rejoin the communications forums "very, very soon, hopefully as soon as tonight or tomorrow".

The next big test of Serb compliance will occur on Friday, when 85 policemen from Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation start patrolling Vogosca, north of Sarajevo, as part of the phased transition of authority in Sarajevo's five Serb-held suburbs. The Federation police will be monitored by the International Police Task Force.

Their boss, Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald, from Ireland, said the local Serb police had the option to join the Federation force, but admitted that none so far had agreed to stay.

"The Bosnian Serb police in the area is a problem that we don't quite know how to deal with at the moment," the commissioner said with unusual frankness.

"The Serb police are not going to stay in these areas," Jovan Maunaga, the local Serb police chief in Vogosca, said yesterday. Nor would they take up the government's invitation to join the Federation police force. "What did they fight for?" he asked. If his men were to work with the enemy "then we should not have had the war."

It is a line quoted widely. "Why did we have a war?" asked Zoran, a Vogosca policeman who plans to leave town on Thursday. "We fought for three-and- a-half years and we can't just forget that overnight."

Mr Maunaga claimed about 60 per cent of the 12,000 Serbs in Vogosca had already left, and that the remainder would follow soon. While many trucks are piled high with possessions leaving town, the appearance of laundry on many balconies - even the fact that most apartment buildings still have windows - suggests many Serbs have not yet decided to go.

However, close to the new international police station, wood was smouldering at the front of a house that was set alight on Sunday night by its departing occupants. The international police, who are trying to build confidence among the local populace, have a difficult task ahead of them.

"I don't think we can solve these people's problems, but we can help," said Sergeant Patrick Barron, the deputy commander in Vogosca. "If we do our job properly, the people will take some comfort," Sergeant Paddy Leahy added.