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Bosnia: Senator Biden Declares Lasting Commitment

Washington, 9 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Richard Holbrooke, America's former top negotiator on the Balkans, says the United States has made a deep commitment to Bosnia and will not abandon that country after the current peacekeeping mandate ends next June.

He said Wednesday that he is convinced on the basis of extensive discussions with all senior U.S policymakers that "the United States commitment to Dayton will continue and that we are not going to walk away from it."

Holbrooke, the architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, now works in investment banking, but still undertakes occasional diplomatic missions at the request of the U.S. President and Secretary of State.

Describing himself as "a friend and adviser" to the government, Holbrooke said the U.S. role in Bosnia after June 1998 is still being determined.

But he repeated emphatically: "Let no one think the U.S. and its NATO allies will walk away from their commitment, that would be a serious error."

He spoke about peace prospects at a conference on Bosnia and the media, organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, appearing with U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware).

Biden, an influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he too is convinced the U.S. will stay the course, calling America's commitment to building the peace in Bosnia "genuine and lasting."

Biden reiterated his belief, reinforced he said by a visit to Bosnia last month, that the U.S. and NATO should actively participate in an effort to capture former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and other war crimes suspects indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.

Holbrooke made a similar point and applauded the surrender of ten Bosnian Croats to the Tribunal earlier this week, calling it "a major development." He said it is a step toward justice and increases the pressure on indicted war crimes suspects still at large.

Holbrooke said another critical issue that is now being addressed with heightened attention is creation of independent media in Bosnia.

He expressed support for NATO's seizure last week of four television transmitters used for propaganda by Bosnian Serb hardliners in Pale.

Holbrooke said "the media cannot be left in the control of fascists and racists," He said it would be "a terrible decision" to give the transmitters back to Pale broadcasters and urged the establishment of an independent media board to operate the television towers.

Holbrooke said he feels "extremely strongly that the transmitters should not be turned back to anyone on a permanent basis but set up as an independent board."

He told the conference participants that Robert Gelbard, the State Department's top diplomat now in charge of Bosnia, returned from the region late Tuesday and is having "advanced discussions on this issue."

The head of a private American human rights group concerned with press freedom, is to visit Bosnia next week, Holbrooke said, to work on the problem of establishing independent media there. The person happens to be his wife, Kati Marton, head of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which reports regularly on the treatment of journalists in the Balkans.

Holbrooke ended his remarks with a strong condemnation of critics of U.S. policy in Bosnia who say the country should be partitioned between the three major ethnic groups of Serbs, Muslims and Croats.

Holbrooke said the United States cannot participate in a move toward partition, because it would be immoral, legitimizing aggression, as well as having terrible political consequences.

He said "the consequences will be immediate and disastrous -- it will increase the chances of war" and "destabilize the entire area of southeastern Europe," including Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria, as well as undermining U.S. leadership in Europe.

"Changing the Dayton Accords to impose partition would be immoral and a terrible thing to do. It would probably result in a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia and a landlocked rump ministate around Sarajevo and Tuzla for the Muslims" Holbrooke said.

He said it would also be unnecessary because most people in Bosnia now are ready to live and work together again. Holbrooke said "the bloodlust which drove the region nearly insane from 1991 to 1995 is over, except for a few criminals and thugs trying to continue it."