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Balkan Report: April 29, 1998

29 April 1998, Volume 2, Number 17

Clinton Pledges Commitment to Bosnia. President Bill Clinton said in a letter to Croatian and Muslim officials on April 28 that Washington will continue to play an important role in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Since Dayton, we have made great strides in creating a stable and secure environment for the people of Bosnia. Much remains to be accomplished. The United States intends to sustain its involvement in Bosnia." U.S. envoy Robert Pardew read the message at a ceremony in Sarajevo in conjunction with the U.S.-sponsored Equip and Train Program for the Croat and Muslim military. He added that the Bosnian Serbs can sign up for the project if they unequivocally recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina as their state and deliver indicted war crimes suspects to the Hague-based tribunal.

Ethnic Clashes Rock Bosnia. When Clinton referred to much remaining to be done, he may well have been thinking of several incidents of ethnic violence that occurred this past week. At issue are two points basic to the Dayton agreement: freedom of movement and the right of refugees to go home. On April 26, a grenade attack wounded at least five Serbs in the inter-entity border region through which the road passes between Muslim-held Tuzla and Serb-controlled Doboj. Following the incident, Serbs stoned Muslims, injuring three. The next day, Serb and Muslim crowds blocked the road, each on their own side of the border. During the night of April 27-28, SFOR took down the Serbian barricade, and the Muslims dismantled their own.

On April 26, some 200 Bosnian Serb refugees arrived in Banja Luka from Croatian-held Drvar, where the Serbs had only recently returned to their homes. Well-organized Croatian mobs have been intimidating the Serbs since their return and burned some Serbian homes. In one incident, two elderly Serbs were killed and left in their torched house.

Top spokesmen for the U.S., UN, and High Representative's office condemned the attacks, as did the Croatian member of the joint presidency, Kresimir Zubak. On April 27, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel wrote Croatian President Franjo Tudjman to urge him "to put an immediate end to the violence against Serbs... This recalls the time of ethnic cleansing [which] must not be repeated." Kinkel added that it is "not acceptable that Serb apartments be ransacked and possessions torched."

Meanwhile in the Derventa area on April 25, Bosnian Serb crowds blocked the road to busses carrying Croatian refugees to a mass near their former homes. It was the latest in a series of incident involving Serbs obstructing the return of Croatian religious leaders and their flocks to places in northern Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 1998).

Montenegro Bars Federal Yugoslav TV. Montenegrin Information Minister Bozidar Jaredic said in a letter to his Yugoslav counterpart Goran Matic on April 27 that Montenegro will not relay the signals of the federal station RTJ, which went on the air that same day. Jaredic said that Podgorica has no objection to creating a federal television station, but added that it must be independent and its activities transparent. He added that Montenegro has no voice in the activities of RTJ, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been widely expected for some months to launch his own television broadcasts to Montenegro, whose independent-minded leadership is currently probably the greatest single threat to his grip on power.

Birds of a Feather. RFE/RL's "Radio Most (Bridge)" program recently brought together Serbian opposition leader Vesna Pesic and Croatian Liberal chairman Vlado Gotovac to discuss the similarities between the Milosevic and Tudjman regimes. Pesic blasted Milosevic's rule as "a degenerate totalitarian regime" that has deliberately isolated itself from the outside world. The president, she added, has recently provoked tensions in Kosova, with Montenegro, and with the international community. She said that Milosevic's Serbia reminds her of that of Prince Milos Obrenovic in the nineteenth century, which Obrenovic ruled as a personal fiefdom.

Gotovac expressed similar sentiments about Tudjman. The Liberal leader noted that the Croatian president has recently behaved like what he called a classic Balkan despot by refusing to receive a delegation from the EU on the grounds that its members were not of a sufficiently high rank. Gotovac noted that Tudjman reserves for himself the right to determine who is a patriotic Croat and what is good for Croatia. Pesic made similar observations about Milosevic.

Quote of the Week. A Serbian policeman in Kosova told London's "The Times" of April 27: "If it wasn't for the media war, we'd have this lot cleared up in two days."