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Bosnian Parties Agree To Confidence-Building Measures

  • Roland Eggleston

Vienna, Jan 29 (RFE/RL) - Bosnia's former warring parties have committed themselves to an extensive series of confidence-building measures intended to reduce the risk of new hostilities.

An agreement signed in Vienna on Jan. 27 commits Bosnia's mostly Muslim government, the Bosnian-Croat federation and Bosnian-Serbs to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from the frontlines to specified areas, to stop military exercises in border regions and to exchange information on military activities. Another important agreement allows for international inspections if there is any suspicion that the agreements are not being honored.

The 27-page agreement was drawn up by the "Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe"(OSCE) after three weeks of talks with the parties involved. The chairman, Hungarian diplomat Istvan Gyarmati, told RFE/RL he was "pleased" with the agreement and "fairly confident" that it would be honored by all three parties.

Most of the agreements come into force on March 1. A spokesman for the OSCE described the accord as an "important step towards ensuring that peace is maintained" in Bosnia.

The OSCE agreement complements provisions in the Dayton peace treaty requiring the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the 1,300-km cease-fire line which snakes across Bosnia. The OSCE agreement requires certain types of tanks, artillery, armored cars, helicopters and some other weapons to be placed under guard in specified depots from which they may not be withdrawn.

Much of the 15-point agreement is made-up of confidence-building measures intended to make all military activity in the region transparent, and to reduce fears that any side might be planning a surprise attack on another. One of these confidence-building measures requires all parties to exchange military information. This includes the specific number of men under arms, and the number and type of weapons, particularly artillery and mortars. Governments are also obliged to state where the men and equipment are located. Any changes have to be reported immediately to the other parties, and to the OSCE. So do any changes in the command structure of the armed forces. That part of the agreement also obliges all parties to provide details of their arms factories and other weapons-manufacturing capabilities.

The agreement bans military maneuvers this year and next year. After that, they may be conducted only if prior notification is given to the other parties to the agreement. Observers from the other parties must be invited to watch. The OSCE agreement restricts the number of soldiers taking part in any maneuver to 1,500, and limits the number of tanks, armored cars, artillery, aircraft and combat helicopters which may be involved. There are also restrictions on the size of other types of military exercises.

Maneuvers are banned within ten kilometers of international borders, and also within ten kilometers of the lines between ethnic groups. An OSCE spokesmansaid this is an extremely important part of the overall agreement. "There is nothing like a military maneuver close to a border or another ethnic group to stir up fears of a possible attack," he said. "Such a misunderstanding can easily lead to a buildup of dangerous tensions."

The OSCE spokesman said that despite the Dayton peace agreement, there would be no real peace for a long time. "The various factions Bosnia are going to remain tense and suspicious of each other for years," he said. "It is very important to enforce confidence-building measures, and to restrict the possibilities for misunderstanding the purpose of miliatry activities."

For this reason, the OSCE agreement contains an extensive verification program allowing international observers to check that various provisions are being honored by all parties.

A particularly important clause allows inspections at short notice, if any party says it is suspicious about military activity. Inspectors are allowed to check the number of troops or weapons at any given place, the purpose of troop movements and any other activity. They may enter barracks or arms factories to see that things are as they should be.

Diplomats say that the Bosnian Serbs objected, almost to the last moment, about this idea of intrusive inspections. Bosnian Serbs argued that the warring parties should merely monitor one another's equipment. In the end, however, they agreed. The diplomats said the Bosnian Serbs also wanted to exclude some countries, particularly Turkey, from inspection teams in the Serb regions.

Other parts of the agreement call for disbanding armed civilian groups and other non-regular forces. Restrictions also are placed on the re-introduction of foreign forces, such as the armed Muslim groups which have been fighting on the side of the Bosnian government.

Diplomats at OSCE headquarters in Vienna emphasised that the agreement reacjed late last week is only part of the arms control measures for Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia.

Additional negotiations are now underway in Vienna in an effort to compel Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia to reduce their holdings of tanks, artillery, armored cars, battle helicopters and warplanes. These negotiations, which are being led by the Norwegian diplomat Vigleik Eide, must be successfully completed by June 6. The Dayton peace accord says that if there is no agreement by then, NATO is empowered to impose its own limits.

Diplomats say the present negotiations are proceeding slower than those which ended last week, but most are confident that agreement will eventually be achieved. One diplomat said: "So long as NATO and the international community keep up the pressure, the peace treaty will hold. But it is essential that every deadline in the Dayton peace treaty be kept."