Prague, 11 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - NATO's "SFOR Bares Its Teeth" reads a headline today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The Western press generally applauds the action of British SFOR (Stabilization Force) troops in moving against two Bosnian Serbs who remained free long after having been indicted for war crimes. The British press is jubilant.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: NATO has the means to capture war criminals
The U.S.-owned newspaper today publishes a commentary by Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch, lamenting the failure until now of NATO to act against those indicted. Roth writes: "Exactly two years have passed since the fall of the so-called safe area of Srebenice." He says: "Of the 78 people on all sides publicly indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, 66 remain at large. They include General Ratko Mladic (and) Radovan Karadzic (even though) NATO knows where to find them and other accused killers and has the legal duty and the means to capture them." Roth urges European nations to take the lead.
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: SFOR means business in Bosnia
A commentary by Peter Munch adopts a celebratory tone. Munch writes: "The hesitating and vacillating are over. SFOR means business in Bosnia. With its first action against wanted war criminals in the Republika Srpska, the international peace force has entered a new phase of involvement. None of the butchers of the Bosnian war should feel safe from now on.."
He comments: "SFOR must not stop half way now. The list of war criminals kept in The Hague is long. (And) at the top of any list are the names of Karadzic and his army commander, Ratko Mladic. Now the march must continue from Prijedor to Pale. It will be no stroll in the country, that's for sure. Karadzic has been warned now. His bodyguard will be prepared for a fight. The operation is dangerous. But it is still more dangerous to continue to leave the criminals on the loose. Bosnia will not find peace for as long as power lies in the hands of the Bosnian-Serb warlords."
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Raid must be followed up
The London Daily Telegraph says today in an editorial that the SFOR raid in Prijedor shows "a new international resolve over Bosnia." The editorial says that "it must now be followed up," and writes further: "The most flagrant of the many omissions in implementing the Dayton agreement on Bosnia-Herzegovina has been the failure to arrest Serbs, Croats and Muslims indicted for war crimes by the international tribunal in The Hague. Their freedom not only makes a mockery of justice. It also undermines the Dayton provisions for a unitary state comprising a Muslim/Croat federation and a Serbian republic."
Here's a sampling of other commentary from the British press today:
The Times of London: "(British Defense Secretary) George Robertson spoke for the nation when he expressed British pride in the SAS (British Special Forces) operation mounted yesterday to arrest two indicted war criminals in Bosnia. As a piece of daring, it ranked among the most challenging operations that Britain's special forces have undertaken. (The action) sent two important messages to the Bosnian Serbs. The first is that the published list of some 75 people wanted for war crimes is not definitive: The sealed indictments contain the names of many more accused of equally heinous behavior. No one with blood on his hands should think he can escape retribution. The second message is to Pale. General Mladic and Dr. Karadzic may think that they are beyond the reach of NATO, and that in any case the Alliance lacks the will to attempt their arrest. Until now, it is true, the international force in Bosnia has interpreted its mandate with excessive caution. The mandate has not changed, but NATO's resolution has."
The London Independent : "The commando operation, code-named Tango, bore all the hallmarks of a dress rehearsal for the capture of the two principal figures in Bosnia's ethnic carnage, Radovan Karadzic and his army commander, General Ratko Mladic."
The London Independent: "British special forces who took part in yesterday's raid in Prijedor will have been heartened by the lack of any popular reaction among Bosnian Serbs to the arrest of two of their most significant leaders, and the death of one of them."
The London Daily Telegraph: "There was relief at NATO, which monitored the operation, as commanders had been worried by the risks of military action after the failure of American troops to detain people in Somalia."
The London Daily Telegraph: "Both (Karadzic and Mladic) live in the sector of Bosnia patrolled by American NATO forces. Any operation to detain the men and send them to The Hague would have to be carried out by Americans."
The London Daily Telegraph: "A British diplomat said, 'Contrary to popular belief, it is the Americans that have been dragging their heels over the effort to pick up war criminals. They fear the death of even one of their soldiers more than the British, the French or the Russians.' "
WASHINGTON POST: Arrests took months of British-U.S. planning
Staff writers John F. Harris and Dana Priest write in a news analysis today that the choice of British forces for the first raid was by happenstance. They say: "As described by various U.S. and European officials, the fact that the policy was carried out (yesterday) in the part of Bosnia patrolled by British peace-keepers was mostly a matter of circumstance. The officials said the suspects targeted -- Milan Kovacevic was arrested and Simo Drljaca killed -- had jobs that brought them into frequent contact with British forces, making them susceptible. A U.S. official in Washington called them 'low-hanging fruit on the tree' with less protection than more senior indicted Serb officials. Even so, the operation took three months of discussion and planning between U.S. and British forces."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Arrests will have wider significance
In a news analysis today, Tyler Marshall says that the arrest and slaying have wider significance than is immediately evident. He writes: "(Yesterday's) military action against two little-known Serbs indicted for war crimes in Bosnia may seem a minor, much-belated triumph on the part of those trying to make the country's battered peace accords work. In fact, it is much more."
He says: "The success of (yesterday's) action, in which one British soldier was slightly wounded in the leg, is likely to have a ripple effect in Western corridors of power. It should provide at least a modest counter-balance to those still transfixed by the nightmare of Somalia, when 18 American soldiers died in a futile, degrading chase to capture an errant warlord.
"(But) effective Bosnian Serb reprisal for (the) action could dampen enthusiasm for taking a next step. But one British official insisted his country's forces are prepared to snuff any attempted retribution."