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Press Review: Scudding Dark Clouds over Bosnia

  • Don Hill

Prague, March 19 (RFE/RL) -- Today is the deadline under the Dayton accords for Bosnian Serbs to hand over areas in and around Sarajevo to the Moslems and Croatians. Arson and pillaging by rampaging gangs are evidence that the transfer is going badly. Western commentators examine the smoke clouds over Bosnia peace efforts.

The New York Times editorializes today: "Peace has already brought many benefits to the peoples of Bosnia, but it has not brought reconciliation and trust. The most disheartening example is Sarajevo.... Blame lies chiefly with the Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who remain determined to complete the division of Bosnia along ethnic lines.... The main victims of this disaster are the 60,000 Serbs who fled their suburban Sarajevo homes. Their fear that returning Muslims and Croats would mistreat them were deliberately encouraged by Karadzic and Mladic.... To avoid further ethnic division, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic should make clear to Karadzic and Mladic that their actions must not be repeated. Sanctions against Serbia that block access to international loans should remain in place until this and all other provisions of the Dayton agreement have been fulfilled."

The Suddeutsche Zeitung said today in an editorial signed by Jens Schneider: "At the moment of truth, houses are burning in Sarajevo. Last December, when the Dayton peace accord for Bosnia was signed..., it was hard to imagine that the Serb rulers would withdraw voluntarily. Now they have left without a bullet being fired but with them went almost all the Serbs.... The only people here are the looters and arsonists who come from all over.... What potential could there have been if the IFOR and the United Nations had given clear, emphatic signals in the first few months? For example by giving guarantees to the Sarajevo Serbs or by arresting presumed war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic, who left their mark on all sides."

In London, The Daily Telegraph editorialized today: "The Dayton peace agreement is in trouble. The destructive exodus of Serbs from the suburbs of Sarajevo, due to be completed today, and the hostility in Mostar between Muslims and Croats, who are supposed to be united in a federation, bode ill for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina.... Healing the wounds caused by years of ethnic conflict cannot be made to conform to the American electoral timetable. NATO should be prepared for a long haul. Otherwise, the fragile state whose integrity Dayton proclaimed will fall apart."

Laura Silber writes today from Geneva in the British newspaper Financial Times: "The European Union yesterday laid out plans to raise up to 4,500 million dollars in Bosnian reconstruction aid.... (U.S. Secretary of State Warren) Christopher's decision to hold an urgent review of the reconciliation effort with the leaders of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia came as a sharp reminder that long-term peace is far from guranteed.... As the talks began, there was chaos in Grbavica.... Serb gangs yesterday rampaged through the district."

The plight of Sarajevan suburbs, especially Grbavica, attracts press attention. The current issue of the U.S. magazine Newsweek carries this analysis: "In the messy handover of the Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo to the Muslim government, most of the dirty work gets done at night.... After Muslims took control, last week, burglars loooted deserted houses and shops with impunity, terrifying all the remaining Serbs. No one expected the handover of the Sarajevo suburbs from Serbs to Moslems to be easy, but few throught it would turn this ugly.... On both sides there's clear evidence that the thuggery was planned, or at least condoned. In each of the five Serb suburbs..., Serb police simply stopped enforcing the law."

John Pomfret wrote yesterday in The Washington Post: "Smoke spiraled from the last Serb-held area of Sarajevo Sunday night as gangs of Serb toughs set buildings ablaze, raped old women and ransacked apartments in a final spasm of violence before this desolate stretch of battered high-rises returns to Muslim control (today). While NATO soldiers, who are supposed to have secured the area, carried out individual acts of heroism, U.N. officials were vicious in their criticism of the NATO operation as a whole in Grbavica, the last of five Serb-held suburbs to be transferred to the mostly Muslim Bosnian government. The growing chaos in Grbavica follows claims by NATO spokesmen that they would increase their presence in the area after similar destruction in the other suburbs. "

Pomfret concluded: "Over the last few weeks, NATO spokesmen have issued statements telling the Serbs that they 'have the right to burn their own houses' and that the international force 'is not a police force and will not undertake police duties.' Such a position has been interpreted by Serb gangs to mean a green light to terrorize the local population, U.N. officials say."

In The Daily Telegraph, Robert Fox writes today from Grbevica: "The former warring parties and factions have to be parted and have forces well behind the ceasefire lines, the main task of the NATO-led peace force, IFOR.... IFOR's high noon has been greeted by palls of black smoke, overnight explosions and an intimidated population of a few thousand inhabitants who have remained simply because they have nowhere else to go."

John Borger writes today in Britain's The Guardian: "The Serb authorities have done nothing to hinder the widespread arson that has marked their departure from the suburbs. Italian and French NATO patrols were increased substantially in the last few days of Serb control, but were unable to suppress arson and looting in built-up areas.... Sixteen local residents who had hoped to stay in their flats until the arrival of the federation police fled fires and intimidation to spend the night in a 'safe house' set up by the U.N. refugee agency. The safe house... is protected by unarmed U.N. police. NATO... refused to post a permanent guard."