Bosnia's date with destiny Crucial Sept. 14 elections: Can Serb leader Karadzic be removed from office in time?

July 08, 1996

THE SCORPION DANCE between Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and the international community trying to bring him to trial on war crimes charges goes on day after frustrating day. He has called the bluff of officials threatening economic sanctions. His so-called resignation as president of his tiny Republica Srpska is confirmed and denied repeatedly by supporters who let it be known he still holds real power.

For Mr. Karadzic and his legions of enemies, a deadline looms. On Sept. 14, at U.S. insistence, elections will be held in Bosnia to set up a faux unitary state ostensibly embracing the warring Serb, Muslim and Croat populations. No one pretends anymore that the preconditions for the election as set out in the Dayton Accords will be fulfilled. Indeed, Washington has flipped the process on its head, deciding that the elections themselves are a precondition for the unhindered travel, free press, return of refugees and arrest of war criminals that were once supposed to come first.

With one exception: President Clinton has demanded "other political leadership" than the Karadzic group "well before" the election. International mediator Carl Bildt has visited Belgrade to urge Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to put the kind of pressure on his fellow Serbs in Bosnia that outside powers dare not exert for fear of martyring Mr. Karadzic.

In making the Sept. 14 elections such a supreme test of will, the international community is taking a high risk. Mr. Bildt's deputy, Michael Steiner, said the other day that Bosnia's ethnic divisions have increased in the last eight months and the number of people ousted from their homes has reached a new high. "This is really alarming," he remarked, adding: "It is wrong to think that you can fudge this over."

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities are still encountering obstacles in their attempts to build a joint Muslim-Croat military force with sufficient strength to match the superior Bosnian Serb forces. The Clinton administration promised some 20,000 U.S. troops would stay only a year. But their withdrawal timetable is already being stretched out and officials say privately an international force will be required for years to prevent a new outbreak of civil war.

However dubious the Bosnian intervention may have been at its outset, it now has become a test of NATO's capacity and U.S. leadership that cannot be allowed to end in disaster.

Pub date: 7/08/96

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