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Press Review: Dayton Agreement Staggers But Stands

  • Don Hill

Prague, Feb. 13 (RFE/RL) - The issue of suspected war criminals in the former Yugoslavia remains at the center of western press commentary.

The New York Times says in an editorial today: "The Bosnian peace agreement seems to have weathered its first serious challenge.... At the request of (U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard) Holbrooke, the Muslim-led government wisely agreed (yesterday) to limit future arrests (for war crimes) to cases where the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague has... certified that the charges are well-founded. This compromise preserves the principle of holding war criminals accountable for their actions. But it also builds in useful safeguards and ought to serve as a model for all sides." The Times concludes: "While Holbrooke was resolving this problem, NATO foolishly decided its soldiers would not detain indicted war criminals encountered by troops in the course of their other duties.... The NATO policy, which looks suspiciously like a trade-off for Bosnian Serb cooperation with Holbrooke, should be reversed. The Dayton peace agreement can succeed only if NATO forces fully uphold its principles and all Bosnian parties begin to establish a level of trust that will permit them to live side by side peacefully within a single state after the NATO troops leave."

In a news analysis in today's Chicago Tribune, Ray Mosely writes: "The extradition (of two Bosnian Serb officers to the International War Crimes Tribunal) appeared to be part of the deal Holbrooke negotiated in two days of talks in Sarajevo and Belgrade, where he met Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.... Their extradition to The Hague appeared likely to aggravate the crisis between Bosnia's government and the Bosnian Serb military leadership. ... The dispute threatens to cause the collapse of the federation, which is central to the Bosnian peace plan, according to diplomats."

Julian Berger reaches a similar conclusion in a commentary today in Great Britain's The Guardian. He writes: "This is the first time the tribunal has extradited suspects from Bosnia.... It was unclear whether the Serbian president, Slobodan Milosevic, had agreed to the new rules knowing that the two officers would be handed over to The Hague. Even if he did, it is far from certain that he would be able to persuade the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic (who himself stands indicted) to accept the extradition of his men."

The Washington Post commented yesterday with a broader perspective on war and peace in the Balkans. "This is a sad time for the idea of Europe as a political community," The Post said. "It could not act on its own to spare one of its constituents, Yugoslavia, the terrible pains of violent disintegration. Now a dispute between two other constituents in the same ill-fated quadrant of Europe, Greece and Turkey, has found the problem-solving institutions of Europe averting their gaze. Why can't Europe tend better to its own political tensions?" The Post concluded: "There was strategic reason for Americans to assume a paramount role in guaranteeing Europe's security during the Cold War. But in the new phase, it cannot be healthy for the United States to move into a continuing role as Europe's policeman."

Katherine Wilkens, former staff director of the U.S.House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, is a resident scholar at the University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies. She writes a commentary published today by The Washington Post: "The American commitment to arm and train the Bosnian army is now a reality of the Balkan equation. (But) the current plan to let Turkey lead the 'equip-and-train' mission is a badly misguided one and should be scrapped immediately.... Just as the Germans, mindful of World War II, have taken care to minimize their visibility, U.S. officials should understand the provocative nature of Turkish involvement. The Ottoman Turks occupied the area for over 500 years, and current Serb thinking is strongly influenced by animosity toward this historic enemy."

Chris Hedges wrote in a New York Times news analysis: "The 1,000-mile-long demilitarization zone that curves through the snowy Bosnian countryside is more than a testament to the end of the war, at least for now, in the former Yugoslavia. It has also created a new and important fault line for cultural clashes that could define the wars of the next century. Yugoslavia, and especially Bosnia, has been where Muslims, Eastern Orthodox and Western-oriented Catholics met and did battle for centuries. All these people are south Slavs (that's what Yugoslavia means) but with the collapse of communism, the discrediting of fascism and the failure of East European-style liberal democracy here, their cultural differences have become paramount.... It would be foolish to think that fighting could not begin again. The nature and timing of such a conflict is yet undefined, but the geographical location is set. It runs on rutted dirt tracks that are patroled by the nearly 60,000 NATO-led troops who put the zone in place."

Writing from Moscow today in the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, Alan Philips says: "Anyone who thinks that silencing the guns in Bosnia means lasting peace in Europe should visit Anton Surikov, the most outspoken voice of the old Soviet military-industrial complex. The son of a general in the strategic rocket forces... he has startling ideas -- nuclear missiles should be put back in Belarus to deter the eastward expansion of NATO, he says, and the Russian army should prepare to invade the Baltic states, which were allowed to escape the Kremlin yoke in 1991, unless they treat their Russians minorities better.... He is an extremist, but his views have an uncanny way of being heard. After he suggested placing nuclear weapons in Belarus, the president of that country, Alexander Lukashenko, publicly floated the same idea.... Even pro-western military commentators admit that Mr. Surikov represents views widely held among the (Russian) military, which the Yeltsin administration cannot counter."