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Balkan Report: October 8, 1997

8 October 1997, Volume 1, Number 11

A Mixed Picture. Ten key indicted Bosnian Croat war crimes suspects left Split for The Hague on October 6. They included Dario Kordic and others linked to the massacre of Muslims in the Lasva valley in 1993. Croatian spokesmen said that the men had left voluntarily after receiving assurances from the U.S. government that their trials will be over in about eight months. Officials in The Hague, however, denied that any such deal had been made.

Whatever the particulars of the men's departure for Holland, their decision to go shows that months of Western -- and especially American -- pressure on Croatian President Franjo Tudjman have had the desired effect. Secondly, Zagreb's decision to cooperate with the tribunal will increase the pressure on Belgrade to do likewise. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, like Tudjman, is a signatory to the Dayton agreements, which oblige all parties to assist the court. And finally, the departure of the ten Croats undermines the claim of Radovan Karadzic and other prominent Serbian nationalists that the tribunal is anti-Serb.

Meanwhile, on October 6 near Bijeljina in eastern Bosnia, the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) began its first major military exercises since the war. The army has generally been split between supporters of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Karadzic's supporters. But the main means of coercion in the Bosnian Serb entity are the police, who have been increasingly defecting to Plavsic's side in recent weeks.

The near victory of the Serbian Radical Party's Vojislav Seselj in the October 5 run-off presidential election, however, casts a shadow over Bosnia. Seselj is openly opposed to the Dayton agreement and supports the creation of a greater Serbia, which would include territories in Croatia and Bosnia. Serbian officials ruled the October 5 vote invalid because less than 50 percent of the electorate turned out, and a new balloting must take place within 60 days. Observers expect Seselj to wage a tough campaign to win the prize that barely escaped his grasp this week.

A New Media Environment. Meanwhile, on Bosnian Serb territory, SFOR peacekeepers took control of four Bosnian Serb television relay stations from hard-liners loyal to Karadzic. The international community had repeatedly warned Pale television to stop portraying the peacekeepers as Nazi-like occupation forces and to stop doctoring the footage supplied to Pale from the international community for unedited broadcasting. But the incident that prompted SFOR's intervention was Pale TV's presentation of a tape of The Hague's Louise Arbour in such a way as to suggest that the court is clearly anti-Serb. Moscow, for its part, condemned SFOR's seizure of the transmitters as unjustified. In response, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service broadcast detailed explanations of what had happened and why.