Bosnian factions recommit to peace Suspended contacts are set to resume

February 19, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ROME -- After two days of often bitter exchanges and intense international pressure, Bosnia's warring factions recommitted themselves yesterday to the accord that has brought an uneasy peace to the Balkans.

"In Rome we've avoided a crisis," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke said after the hastily scheduled summit of three regional leaders.

Easing fears that the accord was in danger of unraveling in the wake of a series of violations, the presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, plus Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat representatives:

* Pledged to resume all official contacts called for in the Dayton, Ohio, accord, a move that is expected to bring the Bosnian Serbs back into all-party committees set up to monitor the implementation of both the military and civilian aspects of the agreement.

* Issued a joint statement on Sarajevo that appealed to Bosnian Serbs not to flee the Bosnian capital, gave assurances that Serbian rights would be protected after the Muslim-Croatian federation assumes control of Serbian-held suburbs, and offered Serbs the chance "to participate fully in the governance of the city."

* Agreed to provide unrestricted access to places and individuals linked to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes.

Mr. Holbrooke stressed after the meeting that no concessions had been made to any party to win the commitments. He confirmed, however, that economic sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs are likely to be suspended soon.

While last year's Dayton agreement technically allows such a move now that Serbian units have effectively withdrawn behind newly drawn lines of control, the timing is seen by some observers as a de facto concession.

Separately -- and also of pivotal importance -- Bosnian Croat and Muslim leaders grudgingly agreed to accept a European Union plan for the integration of ethnically troubled Mostar as a unified city and requested a six-month extension of the EU's mandate to administer Bosnia's second-largest city.

That plan had been rejected last week by Croats, angry that they were going to be forced to share a central zone of the city with Muslims. It sparked violence, threats and physical harassment directed at the EU's resident administrator, Hans Koschnik, and seemed to endanger the very fabric of the larger Muslim-Croatian relationship, whose stability is considered vital if the Dayton accord is to succeed.

In addition, Muslims and Croats agreed to deploy a unified police force in the city beginning tomorrow and to allow freedom of movement to residents.

Relations between Muslims and Croats in the city had deteriorated sharply since the threat from their common enemy -- the Bosnian Serbs -- was diminished by the Dayton agreement.

According to Western participants in the Rome talks, the Mostar issue was discussed in an acrimonious, emotional atmosphere.

Conspicuously, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, often seen as the leader best able to influence Bosnian Croats, left the Rome meeting before the Mostar issue was discussed.

Despite the difficult nature of the Rome talks, Mr. Holbrooke, who retires this week, declared them a success.

"This was Dayton's first real test, a challenge on several fronts," he said. "I believe we passed the test, but it wasn't easy."

Mr. Holbrooke said that meetings similar to the Rome session will be required in the months ahead in order to keep the peace process from falling apart and indicated that the three Balkan presidents had agreed to more frequent direct contact.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported from Sarajevo that after a U.S. commander threatened Bosnian Serb troops with warplanes and attack helicopters, NATO forces gained entry to two Bosnian Serb arms depots in eastern Bosnia.

NATO had twice been denied access to the depots, in Han Pijesak and Han Kram. And though a Bosnian Serb general, Zdravko Tomimir, had promised entry on Saturday, NATO troops were kept out until a U.S. colonel threatened to use force.

NATO also reported that as of yesterday, scores of undeclared tanks and artillery pieces still resting in the demilitarized zone had been removed by the warring parties and that more were being taken out daily.

But Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said nothing could make Serbs stay after Sarajevo and the Serbian-held suburbs are reunified March 19, the Associated Press reported from Pale, where Dr. Karadzic has his headquarters.

"I'm afraid it's too late for the Serbs in Sarajevo," Dr. Karadzic said. "Many of them have left already, and many more will leave in the days to come."

Ordinary Serbs and their leaders demonstrated their lack of faith in coexistence by fleeing en masse from Hadzici, a suburb of Sarajevo.

"We're taking everything, even the traffic signs," Slavko Pusara, a secretary in the mayor's office, said yesterday. "How can we trust NATO? They bombed us too."

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