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U.N. Lifts Sanctions But Tensions Remain

Prague, Feb. 28 (RFE/RL) -- The lifting of international sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs on Tuesday is a sign of how far the Bosnian Serbs have come in complying with the military terms of the Dayton agreement.

But analysts say that last minute disagreements between the Bosnian Serb leadership and the international community shows how many problems still bedevil their relations despite the UN action.

Tuesday's lifting of the trade bans comes two years after the UN imposed them to punish the Bosnian Serbs for rejecting a peace plan to end the Bosnian War. The sanctions had banned trade with any company controlled by Bosnian Serb forces, froze bosnian serb assets abroad and banned key bosnian serb officials abroad.

Announcing the sanctions-lifting in New York, UN Security Council President Madeleine Albright of the U.S. said that the action recognized the Bosnian Serbs' compliance with the military provisions of the Dayton Peace accord.

Albright said that NATO had confirmed that the Bosnian Serb forces have pulled their forces back from their frontline positions in Bosnia as required by the Dayton accord. Bosnia's Croat-Muslim Federation has also withdrawn its forces back from the former frontlines.

Bosnian Serb leaders welcomed the news of the sanctions lifting. Bosnian Serb television yesterday quoted Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic as saying that the whole life of the Bosnian Serb territory "should progress after this act."

At the same time the UN lifted sanctions, Belgrade also ended sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs. Belgrade imposed sanctions two years ago in an effort to convince the internatinal community to ease trade embargos against rump-Yugoslavia for supporting the Bosnian separatists.

The lifting of the sanctions was delayed by recent weeks of sparring between the Bosnian Serb leaders and the international community which show that serious problems remain between them.

NATO delayed final confirmation of the Bosnian Serb pullback to the UN earlier this month when the Bosnian Serb leadership broke off contacts with the peace force over the extradition of two Bosnian Serb officers to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The Bosnian Serb leadership claimed that the officers, who were arrested by the Bosnian Government on suspicion of war crimes, had been illegally detained.

The crisis began to ease after the Presidents of Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia met at a hastily-called summit in Rome ten days ago and reaffirmed their support for the Bosnia peace process. But impatience over the last-minute delays led Russia last week to unilaterally suspend its sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs ahead of the UN. Moscow said that previous letters from NATO chief Javier Solana had already sufficently informed the UN of compliance and that there were no further grounds for delay.

Analysts say that the the war crimes issue which complicated the lifting of the UN sanctions remains a central obstacle to moving beyond military compliance to rebuilding a lasting peace in Bosnia. Several Bosnian Serb leaders, including military commander-in-chief Ratko Mladic and Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic are indicted war criminals who are determined not to be extradited to The Hague themselves.

Recognizing their conflict of interest, UN Security Council President Albright said yesterday that sanctions could be reimposed on the Bosnian Serbs in the event of poor compliance with the peace accord or lack of cooperation with the international War Trimes Tribunal.