Prague, July 8 (RFE/RL) -- As the anniversary approaches of the fall of Srebenica to the Bosnian Serbs, and international investigators began this weekend to excavate mass graves near the former U.N.-protected "safe area", Western commentary over the weekend examined the question of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
In today's Washington Post, John Pomfret writes: "Investigators from the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, equipped with a seven-ton backhoe, began the grim process (yesterday) of exhuming a network of as many as 12 mass graves around the former U.N. 'safe area' of Srebrenica. The tombs could contain the bodies of as many as 5,000 Muslim men executed by Bosnian Serbs last year. . . The prosecution of the war crimes allegedly committed around Srebrenica is one of the main tasks undertaken by the international war crimes tribunal. Last week, hearings began in The Hague and witnesses gave testimony that placed Gen. Ratko Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serbs, who has been indicted on charges of crimes against humanity for the slaughter here, in seven locations around the U.N. 'safe area' as it fell."
Julian Borger writes today in The London Guardian: "Forensic investigators from the United Nations used a mechanical digger to remove the topsoil from a remote northern Bosnian hillside yesterday as work began to exhume thousands of victims of last year's Srebenica massacre. . . . Three thousand men from Srebenica are know to have been killed. (A) missing 5,000 are presumed dead. The remains recovered in the next three months are expected to provide ample evidence of strocities. . . . The main bottleneck in the (work of the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague) has been the refusal of the Bosnian Serbs to hand over suspects like their leader, Radovan Karadzic, and their military boss, General Ratko Mladic -- and NATO's reluctance to pursue them."
The London Daily Telegraph carries an analysis today from Sarajevo by Julius Strauss, who writes: "The forensic scientists hope that the operation will help them piece together the fare of as many as 8,000 Muslim men who disappeared aftger the fall of Srebenica. International organizations fear that about 3,000 were shot by Bosnian Serbs in mass executions and ambushes and bulldozed into graves. Another 5,000 are still missing. . . . War crimes prosecutors hope the evidence will help to corroborate testimony given at The Hague by survivors, some of whom say General Maldic personally oversaw the slaughter."
Barbara Demick writes today in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "The long-awaited exhumations should bolster the case against Serb leaders under indictment by the U.N. war-crimes tribunal at the Hague, Netherlands, and should clear up some of the mystery that still shrouds the disappearance of the Srebrenica Muslims. . . . The site chosen for the first dig is at the side of a dirt road accessible only by truck or four-wheel drive that leads to the tiny village of Cerska, about 18 miles northwest of Srebrenica. It is a deceptively bucolic spot where schoolchildren Sunday were collecting wild raspberries and where it is hard to imagine any suggestion of evil."
She writes: "Yet it is here that on another hot summer day almost a year ago Serbs allegedly gunned down unarmed Muslims fleeing Srebrenica and unceremoniously bulldozed their bodies into unmarked graves. . . . The exhumations seem certain to reignite the accusations and recriminations that surround Srebrenica, especially since they coincide with the one-year anniversary of the town's storming by the Serbs, July 11, 1995. Srebrenica had been designated a U.N. safe haven, and there are widespread allegations that the international community was a passive witness to the worst genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. The embarrassment has not abated because of the continuing controversy over Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both men are under indictment for allegedly directing the killings, yet they remain at liberty -- despite the presence of the nearly 60,000-strong NATO mission in Bosnia. In Tuzla, a large demonstration is planned for the anniversary on Thursday, and it is expected that thousands of survivors will be agitating for a more aggressive stance by the international community."
Raymond Bonner said yesterday in The New York Times: "The Clinton azdministration, and its allies in Bosnia, have concluded that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will not deliver on his earlier promises to remove two Bosnian Serb leaders indicted on war crimes charges from their positions of power, U.S. and European diplomats say. . . . The Dayton accord prohibits indicted war criminals from holding office and requires the signers of the agreement to cooperate with the tribunal. During the Dayton talks and in the months afterwards, Milosevic repeatedly assured U.S. and NATO envoys that he would take care of sidelining Karadzic and Mladic. Some officials always felt that relying on these assurances was naive, given Milosevic's role in starting the war. But, unable to come up with any other solution, they clung to Milosevic."
Also in The New York Times yesterday, columnist Anthony Lewis commented: "Secretary of Defense William Perry is ordinarily an unflappable man, radiating inner confidence. But the other day, while on a visit to Bosnia, he blew up at a reporter who asked him why NATO forces did not arrest Radovan Karadzic, the accused war criminal who leads the Bosnian Serbs. On that subject Perry is evidently uneasy. He knows that Karadzic and his fellow-indictee, Gen. Ratko Mladic, are making the United States and its allies look like weakling fools. He knows that the failure to bring them before the International War Crimes Tribunal threatens to turn the whole Dayton peace process into a bitter farce."
Lewis wrote: "Through the years of their genocidal war, the Bosnian Serb leaders repeatedly made and broke promises to the U.N. Protection Force. The grisly climax came when Mladic seized the supposed safe area of Srebrenica and butchered thousands while UNPROFOR did nothing. Exactly the same tactic of false promises has been used again in recent months. Incredibly, the top civilian administrator of the Dayton peace process, Carl Bildt, has fallen for assurances that would not fool a child."