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Progress Slow Over Bosnia As Contact Group Prepares To Meet

Prague, July 10 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany and France will meet in London today to discuss progress in the implementation of the Bosnia peace accord.

This latest conference of the five nation "contact group" on Bosnia comes as the Bosnian Serb leadership continues to defy the international community, two months ahead of scheduled Bosnian elections.

This week, prosecutors at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague demanded broadened international arrest warrants for Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic.

The two men are indicted war criminals and although the Dayton peace accord explicitly states that all signatories are obliged to cooperate with the tribunal in bringing such people to justice, Karadzic and Mladic continue to move about Bosnian Serb territory with impunity.

While Karadzic recently announced that he was ceding his powers to Bosnian Serb Vice President Biljana Plavsic, his re-election as chairman of the Bosnian Serbs' governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), puts this assertion in doubt. So too does Karadzic's creation this week of a new Bosnian-Serb senate which he will personally chair.

The cat-and-mouse game with NATO-led forces continues. Just this week, commanding General Leighton Smith told journalists that Karadzic and Mladic are still "100 percent" in charge of Bosnian Serb-held areas - or 49 percent of the country. Meanwhile, gruesome war crimes testimony continues in The Hague as United Nations investigators unearth Muslim mass graves in Bosnia.

On the other side of Bosnia's ethnic divide, The Muslim-Croat Federation this week approved a key defense law aimed at formally merging the Muslim and Croat armies into a single force. Although both sides have not yet agreed on who will head the new army, the decision clears the way for a major U.S.-led military assistance program.

The new force will receive some 240 million dollars' worth of military hardware and training from the United States and five Islamic countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

U.S. President Bill Clinton issued a statement saying equipment will start rolling into Bosnia "in a matter of days." He said the goal will be to create a military equilibrium between Bosnia's Muslim-Croat army and Bosnia's Serb army as a deterrent to renewed warfare.

But European countries say the U.S. approach can only lead to more violence, and they are not participating in this military assistance effort. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns yesterday called this decision "unfortunate," but he said the U.S. would press ahead.

Meanwhile, Russia yesterday voiced concern over plans to exclude Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party from upcoming elections. Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin said there were "neither legal nor political grounds for refusing to register SDS candidates just because Radovan Karadzic remains their leader."

Not only does Bosnia remain divided, but so too do the peacekeepers. Observers do not expect today's conference to resolve many of those differences.