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Western Press Review: Plavsic Connection, Unlikely Ally

  • Don Hill



Prague, 19 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- International peacemakers in Bosnia find themselves allied with arch-nationalist President Biljana Plavsic, who still defends some of the ethnic-cleansing excesses of the Bosnian war. This strained alliance plus differences of opinion as to the most prudent course for dealing with a renewed prominence of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, occupies Western commentators.

NEW YORK TIMES: Pressure is building to go after Karadzic

The paper said in an editorial Sunday that the United States and NATO should avoid for now the dangers attendant on seeking to arrest Karadzic. Other means of defanging Karadzic should be exhausted first, the newspaper said. The editorial said: "President Clinton has some difficult decisions to make on Bosnia. The peace there is frayed, the prospects for long-term stability are uncertain and the ostensible deadline for withdrawing American troops is now less than a year away. In the coming weeks Clinton must once again consider what price America is prepared to pay to help secure a lasting peace in Bosnia.

"Many of Clinton's options require the more assertive use of NATO forces in Bosnia, including some 8,000 American troops. That is now warranted, provided the use is judicious, carefully planned and executed and limited to several narrowly defined roles where NATO troops can make a difference in securing peace. For now, we do not believe that includes a risky operation to capture Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb President and a prominent war crimes suspect."

The Times said: "Pressure is building to go after Karadzic. Before Clinton puts American troops in harm's way, he ought to be certain he has exhausted other ways of isolating Karadzic."

DIE WELT: Will the allies bow to necessity and act?

Two commentators for German newspapers urge differently. They call for prompt and forceful action against Karadzic and Bosnian Serb war commander Ratko Mladic. In today's edition, Lothar Ruhl writes: "So far, senior NATO commanders have resisted becoming involved in police tasks and have rejected ideas of hunting down war-crimes suspects Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and company as an extension of their mission. Neither the UN force nor the authorities of the Bosnian Serb Republic -- which are in any case influenced by Karadzic -- have shown either the capability or the willingness to execute the international arrest warrants. The question now is: will the allies one day bow to necessity and act? Or will they allow the peace -- and it is only an apparent peace -- disintegrate into a new state of war and then withdraw after a year?"

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is a chance to drive Karadzic into a corner and arrest him

Peter Munch concurs in a commentary today. He writes: "International peace troops in Bosnia have a new task: to prevent Serbs firing on Serbs. The power struggle in the Bosnian Serb republic has gone so far that SFOR tanks in Banja Luka are having to keep enemy Serb police units apart. The opposing sides are supporters of President Biljana Plavsic and those loyal to accused war criminal Radovan Karadzic."

He says: "Cooperation with the fiercely nationalist Plavsic, who still veils the worst atrocities of the war as heroic acts, is certainly not the best way for the West. But the Europeans and Americans had to become involved in this dangerous liaison in order to bring some movement to the bogged down peace process." And adds: "Karadzic is far from being isolated. He still has strong battalions behind him and with the aid of the state media he is continuing to try to brand Plavsic a traitor and to blame the West for the impoverishment of the Bosnian-Serb population for which he himself is responsible."

Munch writes: "Not since the Dayton treaty has the situation been so favourable for the West in the Serbian half of Bosnia. Plavsic, their unloved but valuable partner, is dependent on international financial aid and can be kept on a short leash. Of course, amid this power struggle there is always the danger of a sudden outbreak of violence. But SFOR is on its guard, as the operation in Banja Luka shows. It seems to be well-equipped to nip violence in the bud. So there is now a chance to drive Karadzic into a corner and arrest him. If the chance is not grasped, peace in Bosnia will be wilfully gambled away."

TIMES OF LONDON: President Plavsic, an extreme nationalist, is an improbable heroine

It's not easy for the United States and its allies to rely on Plavsic as a key ally, the paper says today in an editorial. The newspaper editorializes: "The British troops who mounted guard yesterday over a police station in Republika Srpska stood on the symbolic front line of a power struggle between Srpska's Serb leaders. In theory the troops are on a neutral mission, defusing a confrontation between rival Serb paramilitary police. In practice, they are protecting the authority of Srpska's embattled President, Biljana Plavsic. The decision to do so has not come easily to America and its allies."

The British newspaper says: "President Plavsic is certainly an improbable heroine, an extreme nationalist who in 1992 embraced the perpetrators of "ethnic cleansing". When her main opponent, Radovan Karadzic, was forced under the Dayton agreement to relinquish public office, she was his choice as a pliable substitute. But Mrs. Plavsic has proved less than pliant."

It says: "She astonished Serbians by publicly denouncing the Karadzic mafia for destroying the State, looting its revenues and reducing most Bosnian Serbs to "abject poverty". She demanded Mr. (Dragan) Kijac's resignation as Interior Minister; and when he shrugged that off, exercised her constitutional power to dismiss the Srpska parliament dominated by Mr. Karadzic's allies and call fresh elections in October."

And concludes: "The ruling overturning her decision last Friday by Srpska's constitutional court is a telling example of what she denounces as the 'terror which prevents people from saying what they think.' Jovo Rosic, a judge who had declared his support for the President, had been beaten up so savagely that he was absent, in hospital. Mrs Plavsic has Western support in forging ahead with elections despite the court ruling. She could well lose, and she almost certainly will unless she has access to broadcast media to carry her message to Serb voters. That is practical help the West should provide, with installations under NATO guard. Hardline nationalist that she is, Mrs Plavsic is at least realist enough to say of Richard Holbrooke, Bill Clinton's troubleshooter in Bosnia, that 'American or not, we need him.' In such realism lies what hope there remains of durable peace."

LE MONDE: Bosnia's external representation has lost credibility

In a commentary published by the French daily over the weekend, a group of four Frenchmen takes on a related issue. The authors argue collectively that the European Union and the United States erred in pushing the three principal Bosnian communities to resolve their long-term dispute over diplomatic representation abroad. The four Frenchmen -- a theater director, a movie-maker, a senator and a political-science professor -- say that the move is creating what they call "an absurd situation." They write that those being named as envoys in 33 Bosnian diplomatic missions are not "representing the interests of all Bosnian citizens, whatever their ethnic origins, religion or political convictions, (but rather the interests) of one of the three communities."

As a result, the group says, Bosnia's "external representation has lost all credibility (and Bosnia itself) will soon cease to exist on the international scene. With it," they believe, "will disappear all pledges for the return of refugees, for communal reconciliation, for funds spent in the framework of the peace process. Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia will have further progressed, thanks to the blindness of international institutions."
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