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Western Press Review: Bosnia -- Still Chaotic

  • Don Hill



Prague, 12 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary, with distractions such as elections and heart bypass operations mostly past, turns its attention in recent days back to the complex cracks in Bosnia's eggshell peace.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: An off-the-top-of-the-head list of problems for a re-elected president

The paper mused in an editorial after the U.S. election results last week: "What to do about Medicare? How to restore faith in and the solvency of the Social Security system? Should (the United States) extend (its) stay in Bosnia? How about health care -- insuring the uninsured and dealing with the unintended consequences of the managed-care revolution? And China: How should we relate to this awakening giant? That's just an off-the-top-of-the-head list of problems a reelected President Clinton and a still Republican-controlled Congress will face after they're all seated in January."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The Bosnian Serb president fired the powerful head of her army

Part of the mix is a new effort by elected Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic to consolidate her power by asserting authority over the military. Correspondent Tracy Wilkinson analyzed this development Monday, writing from Vienna: "The move by Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic to fire the powerful head of her army is the latest volley in a long-standing battle between civilians and soldiers in the Bosnian Serb leadership -- a battle over position, profit and blame. Plavsic watched Sunday as Maj. Gen. Pero Colic, a little-known former brigade commander, was sworn in to replace Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander whose ruthless prosecution of war earned him hero status among Bosnian Serbs and two war crimes indictments from a world court."

Wilkinson writes: "Mladic, who witnesses say personally directed the notorious onslaught on the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica last year, was fired along with his senior deputies over the weekend. Now, nervous international mediators in Bosnia-Herzegovina are waiting for signs of whether Mladic will go along with the ouster. Plavsic, despite her history as an ardent proponent of the ethnic cleansing carried out by Mladic during the war, is not under indictment by the International (War Crimes) Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. And she enjoys a legitimacy that Karadzic did not have, following her victory in flawed, but certified, national elections in September. All of this strengthens Plavsic's hand if her dismissal of Mladic is for real. And that is a big 'if.' "

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The firing was a settling of scores

The paper, in an analysis by Robert Fox, says today that the "if" has been resolved in favor of conflict. Under a headline reading "Sacked Mladic Ready To Fight on," Fox writes: "A full-scale power struggle appeared to be under way yesterday between the military and political leadership of the Bosnian Serbs after the sacking of General Ratko Mladic, their controversial but popular civil war leader, at the weekend. The military staff of General Mladic and his two deputies said they were still loyal to their commander, and he continued to have control 'over the whole of the Bosnia :Serb army.' "

Fox goes on: "General Mladic's enforced retirement was announced by Biljana Plavsic, the newly-elected president of the Republika Srpska, the Serb entity in Bosnia. The announcement. . . said the general and the top staff of the army had to step down because of 'overbearing pressure from the international community.' But the summary sacking of General Mladic and his two deputies, General Milan Gvero and General Zdravko Tulimir, and about 80 of their staff seems to have been a settling of primate scores by Mrs. Plavsic and her government against the general's military clique."

NEW YORK TIMES: The general's dismissal won support from Western officials

Writing from Pale in an analysis, Mike O'Connor says: "The dismissal of General Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted for war crimes, as leader of the Bosnian Serb army won support from Western officials Saturday.

He writes, "Late Saturday the man named to replace Mladic, Pero Colic, who was a major during the war but has since been promoted to major general, said he fully supported the peace agreement reached last year, which calls for a unified Bosnia. There was no public reaction from Mladic to Mrs. Plavsic's dismissal order. U.N. officials said he was thought to be meeting with other senior officers. And diplomats said the question of who really controlled the Bosnian Serb military had yet to be decided."

O'Connor writes: "Mrs. Plavsic, a member of the inner circle of political leaders throughout the war who was elected president of the semi-autonomous Serb Republic in September, also has announced a complete reorganization of the top military leadership. Although this move, if successful, would further extend her control of the military, she may also have given military leaders more reason to support Mladic should he resist her order to step aside."

WASHINGTON POST: The U.S. is under pressure to retain peacekeeping forces in Bosnia



On the goal of U.S. President Clinton to have U.S. ground forces out of Bosnia this year, William Drozdiak writes from Berlin in an analysis today: "The United States came under intense pressure (yesterday) from its major allies and senior military commanders in Europe to approve a substantial peacekeeping force in Bosnia well into 1997, despite President Clinton's promise to bring the first American troops deployed to Bosnia home by the end of this year. (The pressure came) as ambassadors from NATO's 16 countries met in Brussels to review future military options in Bosnia."

Drozdiak says: "The two-hour meeting included a presentation by Gen. George A. Joulwan, NATO's chief military commander of U.S. and allied forces in Europe, who argued strongly that maintaining a large peacekeeping force on the ground in Bosnia is necessary until next summer to deter further warfare and bolster prospects for stable civilian government in the Balkans."

The Post correspondent says: "While NATO implementation force has succeeded in extinguishing fighting in the past year with almost no casualties, its attempts at reconciliation and civilian reconstruction have been disappointing. At a meeting in Paris scheduled for later this week, foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain will seek to ensure rapid progress on the civilian front in Bosnia so that NATO can safely extricate its troops by next summer."

NEW YORK TIMES: Bosnian Muslims may be getting heavy firepower

In its Week in Review Section Sunday, the paper said: "The Bosnian Muslims have never hidden the fact that if the Dayton peace agreement failed to unify all of Bosnia, their army would try. They appear to be headed in that direction already. European intelligence agencies have uncovered clandestine arms shipments going from Malaysia and Turkey to the Muslim army in Bosnia. That suggests the Muslims may be getting the kind of heavy firepower they lacked during the war and the ability to take on the Serbs, something that could threaten not only the shaky federation between the Muslims and the Croats, but the peace agreement itself."
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