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Bosnian Peace Plan Gets Reprieve From Mounting Tensions

  • Kitty McKinsey

Prague, Feb. 13 (RFE/RL) - Two senior Bosnian Serb army officers woke up this morning in jail in The Netherlands, accused of war crimes but not yet formally charged.

The two men - General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic - were whisked away from Sarajevo to the jurisdiction of the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague last night as part of a deal that U.S. diplomats hope will now lower tension in Bosnia-Herzegovina and put the peace process back on track.

The two senior officers were arrested in Sarajevo on Jan. 30 after taking a wrong turn out of a Serb suburb into government territory. Their arrest triggered the most serious crisis yet in the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords and prompted the Bosnian Serbs to sever links with the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) and the fledgling Muslim-Croat Federation. Now their transfer to the jurisdiction of The Hague has taken the politically sensitive issue of their detention by Sarajevo's authorities out of the hands of the Bosnian government.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke - the chief architect of the Dayton Accords that ended more than more than three years of war - shuttled between Belgrade and Sarajevo on an emergency mission to rescue the peace plan.

Under what he calls new "rules of the road," the Bosnian government agreed that in the future it would not arrest people on suspicion of war crimes without authorization from The Hague. This will allow the free movement of people on Bosnia's roads as called for in the Dayton Accords. Holbrooke left Sarajevo yesterday convinced that "the tensions that have risen in recent days should now begin to abate."

But today Holbrooke will have to cope with a whole different set of tensions -- the violent disagreements between Bosnian Croats and Muslims in the divided southern Herzegovinian city of Mostar. These tensions threaten to blow apart a cornerstone of the peace accords -- the Muslim-Croat Federation. (It controls 51 percent of Bosnian territory, with the remaining 49 percent under the control of Bosnian Serbs.)

Even though Bosnia's Muslims and Croats were forced into the shotgun wedding of the federation by the United States in March 1994, the deep wounds of their 11-month war against each other have never healed. Many observers believe that Mostar is the real testing ground of whether peace will hold in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Since mid-1994, Mostar has been administered by the European Union (EU), which has mostly managed to keep a lid on violence there but has failed to make any significant progress in unifying the city, where Croats live on the western side of the Neretva River and Muslims live on the devastated eastern side.

The hard-line Herzegovina Croats, who still cling to a vision of Mostar as the capital of their own state, have refused to join a joint police force.

Last week they reacted violently to an EU plan to divide the city into three Croat districts and three Muslim districts. The Croats objected to plans for a central unified district. They argued it would actually be under the control of the Muslims.

EU Administrator Hans Koschnick narrowly escaped being lynched last week when hundreds of Croats rioted. They attacked the EU headquarters and Koschnick's armored car, which was hit by at least 10 bullets.

Today, Holbrooke is in Zagreb to discuss the Mostar problem with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, whose country has a great deal of influence on Tudjman.

But the problem in bringing the Herzegovina Croats to heel, many observers say, is that they may have more influence over Tudjman than he has over them.

Tudjman is indebted to Herzegovina Croats for their help in Croatia's 1991 war of separation from Yugoslavia, and the Herzegovina Croats are not economically dependent on Zagreb. In addition, the Herzegovina lobby - led by Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak - is strong within Tudjman's own ruling party.

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, who visited divided Mostar yesterday, called for reconciliation between Muslims and Croats. Solana said that EU administrator Koschnick has "the support of the international community."

It remains to be seen whether that is enough to bring real peace to a city whose citizens don't seem to desire it.