New York, 25 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The United States, major European nations and Russia have agreed to impose tougher sanctions against anyone blocking the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia.
In a strongly worded statement, foreign ministers of Italy, Germany, France and Great Britain besides the U.S. and Russia, yesterday said they will "advocate increasingly strong measures against those impeding progress."
The statement was issued after a 90-minute meeting of the six-nation Contact Group, chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in New York where she and the others are attending the United Nations General Assembly.
The group also broke new ground, issuing for the first time a separate statement expressing concern over the situation in Kosovo, a Serb province with a majority ethnic Albanian population.
In the statement on Bosnia, the foreign ministers did not specify what stricter measures they had in mind. But a senior U.S. State Department official told reporters later that a variety of steps are under active consideration, including the withholding of assistance and other economic measures, as well as further tightening travel restrictions on Bosnian Serbs in Republika Srpska.
He said that while all ethnic groups in the region have violated Dayton provisions, there is now a broad consensus in the Contact Group that hardline Bosnian Serbs present a major obstacle to peace.
One of the priority items on the Contact Group's agenda was a discussion of planned parliamentary and presidential elections in Republika Srpska.
Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic announced yesterday that a compromise agreement had been reached on election dates with her political opponent Momcilo Krajisnik, the hardline nationalist leader and Serb member of Bosnia's collective presidency. Parliamentary elections in Republika Srpska are to take place on November 15 and a presidential ballot on December 7.
The Contact Group in the statement called on all Bosnian Serbs to participate in the vote and cooperate with the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe which will supervise the process.
The statement urged Republika Srpska Serbs "to ensure that the elections fully meet democratic standards and are held without intimidation and with full respect for freedom of movement, expression and media."
The Contact Group also congratulated Bosnian citizens on their municipal elections last week and urged them to respect the results. The statement said it is imperative that the winners be able to take office and get on with the job they have been elected to do.
"We expect all authorities, including cantonal and local officials, to ensure the rapid, peaceful and orderly implementation of the municipal election results," it said.
In what is now a customary reward-and-punishment approach for Bosnia, the statement said this could mean "enhanced delivery of international assistance," But conversely it threatened "strict measures against any individual or group impeding full implementation of municipal election results."
`The Contact Group also took a strong stand on the media, urging a free and independent press that could hold government accountable for its actions and thus help stop spreading corruption. It said: "we underscore the important role of an independent, professional media in exposing corruption."
The group said it is increasingly concerned about the effects of corruption, smuggling and organized crime on economic and civil recovery in Bosnia, and believes "the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are entitled to far greater transparency and accountability at all levels of government."
It also condemned the use of media to disseminate inflammatory messages and false information in a veiled reference to the problems with the Udrigovo television tower in northeastern Bosnia in the runup to the September 13-14 municipal elections.
NATO troops called in by the European High representative briefly seized the tower and returned it to the control of Pale-based hardline Serbs on condition that they include daily unedited programs of opposing views supplied by Plavsic supporters and NATO.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov seemed critical of the move in an apparent reference to Bosnia in his address Tuesday to the UN General Assembly. He said that peacekeepers should never use force unless sanctioned and supervised by the UN Security Council.
But Primakov accepted the language of the Contact Group's statement which gave full backing to Europe's High Representative and reaffirmed his right to take action against media that violate the peace accords.
Primakov also confirmed to reporters Wednesday that Russia shifted its position in dropping objections to holding the parliamentary elections in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia. That prompted Albright to say earlier this week that the U.S. and Russia are partners in Bosnia.
And on a third point that pleased the Americans, Primakov told Albright in private talks this week that Russia would have no problem with a continuing NATO presence in Bosnia after its current mission ends next June.
Albright told reporters that the issue was not raised in the Contact Group meeting. She said the U.S. has made no decision on what it will do next in Bosnia but will remain committed to building democracy there. She said the U.S. realizes this will not happen overnight and that its commitment is for a long time.
The Contact Group ministers went on to discuss at some length the tension in Serbia's Kosovo province and expressed in a separate statement "deep concern" over the situation.
Alarmed by a recent spate of violence and unrest among students, the statement called on Belgrade authorities and the leadership of the Kosovar Albanian community to join in a peaceful dialogue, saying it is an essential first step towards reducing tension.
The statement warned against the use of violence to press political demands and urged all sides to exercise maximum restraint.
The statement made it clear that the Contact Group is not sympathetic to the separatist yearnings of many Kosovo Albanians, saying "we do not support independence," but it added that the group supports "an enhanced status for Kosovo within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" and wants to see the rights of the Albanian population fully protected in accordance with the UN charter and Helsinki standards.