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Bosnia: Future Under Dayton Examined

The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on 14 June examined Bosnia-Herzegovina's future under the Dayton peace agreement signed in the U.S. city of Dayton, Ohio, close to five years ago. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams followed the debate, which addressed how best to speed the process of peace implementation.

Washington, 14 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Congressman Christopher Smith (R-New Jersey) perhaps put it best when he opened Tuesday's hearing on Bosnia's future under the Dayton peace agreement by saying, "Dayton is a struggle to turn words into deeds."

Each of the three U.S. officials who testified before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe detailed the struggle in varying degrees. But all agreed that the Dayton peace accord itself was a good one -- and one that the U.S. and international community must ensure is adhered to by all parties.

Ambassador James Pardew is the principal U.S. deputy special adviser for Kosovo and Dayton peace plan implementation for Bosnia. He testified that achievement had been made most notably in the restoration of civilian movement, the holding of elections and significant refugee returns. But he said Bosnia-Herzegovina today -- five years after Dayton -- remains "a work in progress."

Pardew noted that the Dayton peace treaty never was designed to resolve every issue in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or promise to do so in the future. That, he said, is for the people of Bosnia to resolve.

Pardew said the fundamental problem with Dayton peace plan implementation is that many of the political leaders in Bosnia have still not accepted fully the concept of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state:

"Nationalists on all sides cling to their narrow slice of power --never bought on to the promise and potential of the Dayton agreement. It is this serious lack of vision and tolerance, failure to compromise, and most of all unwillingness of many of these leaders to wholeheartedly embrace democracy and a market oriented economy, that have so badly slowed progress in Bosnia."

Pardew expressed frustration at the slow pace of economic and political reform after Dayton, calling it a "partial success" at best. At the same time, he rejected growing calls by some to renegotiate the Dayton peace agreement:

"I do not believe renegotiating the Dayton agreement is in our interest, as some have suggested. Some want to reopen Dayton as a way to speed up the transition in Bosnia. The agreement is more than adequate to build on as it stands and reopening it will not address the basic problems I just described. In fact, renegotiating Dayton with the current political, economic and military leadership would only set back existing achievements."

Ambassador Robert Barry, who heads the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina agreed. He said he saw the situation in Bosnia as more or less normalizing, adding that if ever there was a time to push forward with implementation it was now.

Barry said obstruction of implementation of Dayton by the parties on the ground and calls for its revisions are two sides of the same coin (tactics aimed at the same purpose):

"Both are attempts to modify what was agreed to in the favor of one side to the other, in full knowledge that these changes will not be acceptable to the other side. The international community must not be party to these sorts of deadly games, instead we must continue to insist on implementation of what was signed, focusing on the elements that are crucial to ensure a sovereign and multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Barry further said that the right place to argue for revision of Dayton is in Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka, and not in Washington.

From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina was ravaged by a bloody conflict marked by aggression and ethnic cleansing as the Republic emerged from the disintegrating Yugoslavia. More than 200,000 -- overwhelmingly civilians -- are believed to have been killed. Tens of thousands more were raped or tortured in camps. Half of the population of over four million were displaced internally, or as refugees abroad, before international intervention and the General Framework Agreement for Peace, known as Dayton, ended the fighting in 1995.

U.S. General Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander in Europe, testified that the military tasks in Bosnia are "largely done." He cited the draw-down of U.S. forces from 20,000 at the height of the conflict, to under 4,000 today as evidence. At the same time, Clark said the U.S. military still has a central role to play in Bosnia:

"The work for political and economic transformation cannot be done in Bosnia without continued military support. There may be future reductions, but the military presence today is essential to enable continuing transformations to take place."

Clark cited implementing full refugee returns as one of the biggest challenges lying ahead in Bosnia. He also said vigorous efforts must be taken to combat crime and corruption and to strengthen state institutions. General Clark also said certain issues further afield could not be overlooked:

"That having been said, there is no solution to Bosnia in Bosnia alone. Any solution requires a fundamental change in Belgrade. (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic needs to go to the Hague and stand trial. There must be democracy in Belgrade and then international institutions are going to have to work to convert an entire people. It's been kept in the dark and misled for over a decade."

Clark's words encapsulate the general consensus of the Helsinki Commission hearing that while progress has been made in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the Dayton peace plan was signed, much more remains to be done.