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Yugoslavia: Kostunica Signs Pact With Bosnian Serb Nationalist Party

  • Ron Synovitz

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has signed a cooperation agreement between his political party and the Bosnian-Serb nationalist party formerly led by fugitive war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz examines the pact and how it could affect Kostunica's base of support within Yugoslavia.

Prague, 1 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A cooperation pact signed by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica this week will strengthen ties with the nationalist Bosnian-Serb party that was founded by indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic.

Kostunica signed the agreement on 30 July with the speaker of the Bosnian-Serb parliament, Dragan Kalinic, who now leads the entity's Serb Democratic Party.

Kostunica, speaking at the signing, played down the significance of the agreement, saying it simply formalizes cooperation that has existed for years.

"If I would have to ask myself some questions on this occasion, it would be 'Why now after all this time?' [Our political parties] have been cooperating for years and they are formalizing that cooperation by ratifying a protocol. We are making this agreement after being previously occupied with official state matters and after having fulfilled some international obligations."

Kostunica said the common views between Yugoslavia and the Bosnian-Serb entity make the pact logical.

"The protocol represents something logical, deriving from the relationship between the states -- between Federal Yugoslavia and one of the entities in Bosnia which is called Republika Srpska. Hence, in one case we had the connections between certain state entities and in this case we have a connection between two dominant parties in the Republika Srpska and Yugoslavia."

Political analysts say the pact appears to be a logical extension of Kostunica's support for Serbian interests outside of Yugoslavia.

Belgrade-based political analyst Ognjen Pribicevic notes that the protocol could foster criticism from Washington and Brussels, which support Kostunica's pro-democracy forces but remain suspicious of the Bosnian-Serb nationalists.

Authorities in Banja Luka are coming under increased international pressure to transfer the indicted Karadzic, along with his ex-military commander Ratko Mladic, to the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Both men are accused of masterminding widespread atrocities against Bosnian Muslims and Croats as part of a systematic ethnic cleansing campaign aimed at altering Bosnia's demographic composition.

The transfer of ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague a month ago has fueled speculation that Karadzic and Mladic could be sent there soon.

But Bosnian-Serb authorities deny they are sheltering either of the two suspects. Banja Luka's parliamentary speaker Kalinic says Karadzic is no longer a party member and has not had any role in policy-making since he was forced from power after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995.

While analysts agree that Kostunica shares a common pro-Serb orientation with Bosnian Serb nationalists, some suggest the pact with the Bosnian Serbs may be an attempt by Kostunica to bolster his support base among former Milosevic supporters.

Kostunica initially promised not to allow Milosevic or other indicted war crimes suspects to be extradited. But he later changed his position, saying that cooperation with the UN tribunal was unavoidable if Yugoslavia hoped to get international aid.

Michael Taylor, a Yugoslav expert with the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, says the transfer of Milosevic to The Hague has thwarted Kostunica's hopes of enlarging his support base:

"It's not really measurable very much at the moment. I'm not saying that [Kostunica's] popularity has slumped already. But looking at the long-term, we [at the Economist Intelligence Unit] expect him to have lost ground."

There also are other signs of closer cooperation, on a state level, between Belgrade and Banja Luka. A Bosnian Serb delegation led by Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic held talks yesterday with Kostunica and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

Djindjic and Ivanic said the two governments expect conditions for removing customs barriers to be created by the end of this month.