Bosnian vote to go ahead by mid-Sept. Bosnian president won't demand arrest of top Bosnian Serbs

Christopher disappointed

Milosevic refuses to bring Karadzic and Mladic to justice

June 03, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

GENEVA -- The presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia agreed yesterday to go ahead with Bosnian elections by mid-September even if indicted war crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic remain at liberty.

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher persuaded Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to drop his earlier demand that the two Bosnian Serb leaders be arrested and sent to the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague before holding the elections. The U.S.-brokered agreement that ended Bosnia-Herzegovina's war stipulated that all war crimes suspects be removed from power.

In what was a sharp disappointment for the secretary of state and his aides, Christopher said he failed to win a commitment from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to bring his one-time proteges to justice.

Christopher said he told Milosevic that "it is not good enough" to promise that the pair will eventually be removed from power and that he warned the Serbian leader that international economic sanctions could be reimposed on his country if he does not cooperate in arresting the pair. But when asked when that might be done, Christopher said: "I'm not in the business of establishing deadlines."

Although Izetbegovic said before the meeting began that there would be no elections unless Karadzic and Mladic were sent to The Hague, he later signed a statement that called the balloting "the most important next step in the peace process."

"He realizes the importance of setting the date and assuring that conditions are ready for free and fair elections," Christopher said explaining how he was able to change the mind of the Bosnian Muslim leader.

Under the peace accord reached last year in Dayton, Ohio, elections are to be held by Sept. 14. Christopher said a firm date probably will be set later this month.

Christopher met separately with Izetbegovic, Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in a daylong series of meetings that U.S. officials said were intended to keep the pressure on the former antagonists to abide by the Dayton accord that ended 3 1/2 years of war in Bosnia.

Speaking at a late-night news conference, Christopher also said the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia is ready to step up its efforts to guarantee freedom of movement for Bosnian citizens -- a key provision of the Dayton accord -- and to apprehend those indicted on war crimes charges.

Although Christopher insisted that the step would not expand the peacekeepers' mission, which began in December, he said the force would increase its patrols throughout Bosnia.

He said the international troops had completed most of the purely military aspects of their mission, which "gives them more resources and more time to accomplish other missions."

He said NATO troops would not actively search for war crimes suspects but would arrest any they encountered.

In a step that seems intended to bolster opponents of Karadzic in the Bosnian Serb leadership, Christopher also announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development will open an office in Banja Luka, the largest town under Bosnian Serb control and the stronghold of Bosnian Serb leaders whom U.S. officials consider rivals to Karadzic. The Bosnian Serb leader maintains his headquarters in Pale, a suburb of the capital, Sarajevo.

Karadzic and Mladic have been taunting the international community by making regular public appearances. Last month, for instance, Mladic, the army commander, attended a funeral in Belgrade, the Serbian capital.

The planned increase in patrols by the international peacekeepers will restrict their travel and place them under virtual house arrest, officials said.

But Christopher's primary objective in calling the Balkan presidents to Geneva was to underline the U.S. determination to hold elections, regardless of reports of human rights violations, illegal roadblocks, restrictions on media freedom and other impediments in Bosnia.

"It will not be possible to have pristine, Western European- or North American-style conditions for elections" after years of bloody ethnic war, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said.

Pub Date: 6/03/96

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