Bosnian Serb leaders kill anti-NATO order Politicians say general lacked authority to cut ties with peacekeepers


PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Bosnian Serb government leaders said yesterday that an order by the military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, to sever ties with the NATO-led peacekeeping force until the Bosnian government released two senior officers was "invalid" and had been rescinded.

"This demand by General Mladic does not reflect the view of the Bosnian Serb government," the self-styled prime minister, Rajko Kasagic, said. "General Mladic does not speak for the government. Our government decides policy, and our army implements government policy."

Mr. Kasagic said Bosnian Serb government leaders would continue to cooperate with the NATO-led peace force and the United Nations. But he said they would not hold meetings on Bosnian government-controlled territory "for our own security."

The Bosnian Serb political leader, Dr. Radovan Karadzic, had informed the Bosnian Serb commanders, including General Mladic, that they did not have the authority to determine his government's relationship with NATO and the United Nations, Mr. Kasagic said.

"President Karadzic has today overcome the misunderstanding we had with the military commanders," he said.

The decision by the Bosnian Serb political leaders to repudiate the order issued Thursday by General Mladic is their first public rift with the military commander, who has been indicted for war crimes by the international tribunal at The Hague.

It suggests that the Bosnian Serbs' high command and government are of two minds about how to handle the detention of the two senior officers, who the Bosnian government says are being investigated for war crimes.

The two officers, Gen. Djordje Djukic, a close aide to General Mladic, and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, were arrested by Bosnian government officials on a highway west of Sarajevo on Jan. 30. Their arrest and that of nine other officers, four of whom were freed Saturday, has threatened to stall efforts to carry out the peace accord reached in Dayton, Ohio.

The repudiation of General Mladic's order came as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke arrived in the region to help mend the dispute between the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

Although the Bosnian Serbs have promised to comply with the agreement signed in December, they refuse to meet with Bosnian government officials, a key part of the peace plan.

Mr. Holbrooke told the Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats yesterday that they must carry out every aspect of the peace accord.

"We are here to insist on full compliance with Dayton -- no exceptions, no changes," Mr. Holbrooke said.

"We consider this as the first serious challenge to the Dayton agreement," he said. "All three parties are still saying they will comply, but they are arguing over what compliance means. We are here to help them straighten it out."

Bosnian Serb officials said they had been told by Serbian officials in Belgrade that the Americans would try to secure the release of the officers.

But U.S. officials said they expected the two officers to be extradited to The Hague for war crimes. Mr. Holbrooke left Sarajevo for Belgrade to meet with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic last night to discuss the fate of the two officers, aides said.

John Shattuck, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, said two Bosnian Serb officers were "being well treated."

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