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Bosnia: Holbrooke Says Dayton Accords A Success

The main architect of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, says the accords can now be termed a "qualified success." Holbrooke told a news conference today that five years after Dayton, Bosnia-Herzegovina is at peace and an accepted member of the international community of nations. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

Washington, 31 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Richard Holbrooke says five years after he brokered the agreement that ended Bosnia-Herzegovina's war, there are encouraging signs of peace and a move toward reconciliation.

Holbrooke says the most positive signal of late is a surge in the number of minorities returning to their homes this year -- about 15,000 so far.

Holbrooke also referred to today's signing in Sarajevo of customs and repatriations agreements by Bosnia and Croatia. He said this reinforces what has become a new period of friendly relations following a change in Croatia's leadership earlier this year.

He expressed hope that the new Croatia government will use its influence with ethnic Croats to help solve some of the problems in the divided city of Mostar.

Most importantly, Holbrooke said, the cycle of violence that introduced the term "ethnic cleansing" to late 20th century Europe appears to be over in Bosnia. He said NATO forces, the Peace Implementation Council, and the contact group for Bosnia, which includes Russia, must continue to safeguard that peace.

"Armed forces purging each other by ethnicity or by race has ceased to plague the country and no one I know thinks that the war will resume provided the outside powers continue to do their job."

Holbrooke also noted some flaws in the Dayton accord, notably the establishment of a weak three-person presidency and the continuation of armies belonging to the main ethnic groups. He said the presidency needs to be strengthened and the armed forces united into one to help further stabilize the country.

Holbrooke spoke at a news conference in New York today to assess the situation in the Balkans nearly five years since the signing of the Dayton Accords. Holbrooke is now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He was repeatedly asked what the United States would do if Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is re-elected this autumn.

Recent constitutional changes will allow Milosevic to run in presidential elections, which he announced will take place in September.

Holbrooke says the U.S. government is doubtful the elections can be held under fair conditions. At the same time, he said, the victory of opposition forces in Serbia would be a major step toward easing tensions through the region.

"It is the tragedy of Serbia and it is the tragedy of the Balkans that the Serb people have been denied a chance to choose in a free and fair election the kind of leadership they want and until that happens, all the other problems we're talking about including Bosnia and Kosovo and Montenegro, which are the three dominant themes of this press conference today, are going to be in an explosive state."

The U.S. ambassador says the United States is concerned about the status of Montenegro, which has threatened to not participate in the polls called by Milosevic. He said the United States has supported Montenegro in an effort to avoid another Yugoslav civil war.

"Nobody wants to see a fifth Balkan war. We've had four already in the last nine years and the fifth would be very dangerous. And it would be, given the deployment of NATO forces in the region, it would directly affect NATO's vital interests."

Holbrooke repeatedly singled out Milosevic -- who has been indicted for war crimes -- for blame in exacerbating tensions throughout the region.

"The problems of the region over the last nine years can be laid overwhelmingly, not exclusively, but overwhelmingly at the feet of President Milosevic and his leadership in Belgrade and that includes the Montenegrin issue."

He said the main U.S. strategy continues to be the isolation of the regime in Belgrade. He also said he will launch a campaign at the United Nations this autumn to clear up the status of Yugoslavia's representation at the world body. Yugoslavia has not filed for membership in the General Assembly as a successor state and is not recognized by the chamber.