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Balkans: Commission Warns Of Disaster If Region Is Ignored

Prague, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- An international commission says a continued military presence, which includes U.S. participation, is needed for several more years to ensure peace in the former Yugoslavia.

The Balkan Commission, led by former Belgian Prime Minister Leo Tindemans, studied the causes and effects of the 42-month war in the former Yugoslavia for more than a year. Last week, the commission presented its report to Czech President Vaclav Havel. The report is due to be officially released later this week in Washington and the commission will then present it in various capitals of Western Europe in the following weeks.

After receiving the report, Havel called the document "important, interesting and convincing."

He also said he was honored to be the first to be acquainted with the results of the commission's work. Havel said this happened because "it is well known that I am constantly monitoring the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the former Yugoslavia, and in the entire region, very closely."

The report is a scathing indictment of the United Nations for failing to take appropriate action which may have avoided some of the massive bloodshed and ethnic cleansing in the region.

In a summary overview of the report, the authors say "the lessons of the past few years are that the United Nations, torn by conflicting national perspectives, cannot organize international action in time."

It said: "The outside factors that made possible the mass slaughter at Srebrenica (where as many as 7,000 Muslims are believed to have been killed when the eastern enclave was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces) were numerous."

It cites "the refusal of the leading international exert a credible threat of force...the gap between the rhetoric and the willingness of the international powers to back their words with actions; the under-equipping of the U.N. forces...the tendency of many U.N. officials to equate impartiality with neutrality between warring parties, even when one or more were violating Security Council mandates; and the tendency of the U.N. secretariat -- especially when faced with impracticable, unenforceable and crucially ambiguous mandates, to 'redefine' the mandates to minimize the risks of implementation."

"It must not be allowed to happen again," says the report.

According to the commission, the potential for conflict is much greater in southeastern Europe than anywhere else in Europe, outside of the former Soviet Union.

"Renewed fighting would doubtless entail more ethnic cleansing, either requiring large-scale intervention to stop it, or occasioning another failure of the major powers to intervene that could raise further questions about what values both sides of the Atlantic are willing to defend."

As a result, it says the United States and Europe must act together "if they want to affect a particular situation." But the report warns that diplomacy, not backed by force, "is tantamount to hollow gesturing."

The commission says "given the credibility of American military power in the region, a military presence of the United States must be maintained."

U.S. President Bill Clinton promised the American public all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the former Yugoslavia by the end of this year, or within the first few months of 1997 at the latest. Under the Dayton Agreements which brought peace to the region, the international peace implementation force is to withdraw by December 21, 1996.

The commission rejects that deadline. It says that "turning a blind eye to the Balkans would be no less a recipe for disaster at the end of the twentieth century than it was at its outset. Outside guarantors, even enforcers, of the peace will have to remain in the region -- first and foremost in Bosnia -- for a considerable period of time." And the commission says "NATO members should recognize that it may be necessary to demonstrate their will with military force."

The commission acknowledges there is a threat Bosnia-Herzegovina will split into three distinct ethnic parts, leading to the de facto annexation by Croatia and Serbia of its sister regions in Bosnia. That would leave about 30 percent of Bosnia as a predominantly Muslim state. The commission says "to leave an Islamic state sandwiched between a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia is a recipe for instability."

To prevent the fracturing of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the commission recommends that, in addition to maintaining a peace implementation force, the international community should strive to preserve and strengthen all the main common institutions in the country, to ensure the enforcement of the Dayton Agreements regarding the prosecution of indicted war criminals, to guarantee the existence of a free and independent media and to help in reconstruction which should focus on projects promoting Bosnia's economic integration.

The commission also recommends the creation of a "Balkans Association of Partnership for Peace" program which, it says, would respond to Balkan aspirations to join NATO without abandoning the Western alliance's ability to influence the region.

The commission concludes that the Balkans "stand at the crossroads, confronted with the prospect of being marginalized once again or of overcoming the present crisis and creating the conditions for their integration into the European mainstream."

It says a framework must be created to give everyone in the region a stake in peace so each side would "feel it is gaining something in exchange for sacrificing something...each side must be made to see the cost of resuming war as higher than the cost of maintaining peace."