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Bosnian Serb Snubs NATO, Then Relents

February 20, 1996|DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — After an embarrassing no-show at a highly publicized meeting aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier Monday, a top Bosnian Serb general agreed to meet with a NATO commander today, alliance officials announced Monday night.

The absence of Bosnian Serb Maj. Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb army, at a military planning session aboard the carrier George Washington came just a day after his attendance had been guaranteed at a peace summit in Rome.

It had been announced in Rome that the meeting on the Adriatic Sea would mark the formal resumption of high-level military contacts between the Bosnian Serbs and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peace implementation force, known as IFOR.

One of the key achievements of the weekend summit, diplomats said, was an assurance from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and top Bosnian Serb official Momcilo Krajisnik that the break in military contacts had ended.

But NATO officials, who had made transportation to the meeting available for Tolimir, said the general never showed up. The meeting was held anyway with representatives of the Bosnian government and Bosnian Croat armies.

Tolimir's failure to show raises serious questions about the influence of political leaders over the Bosnian Serb military, headed by Gen. Ratko Mladic. Under the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord, NATO can have no dealings with Mladic, who has been indicted on war crimes charges.

"I can assure you his political masters wanted him here. It is unconscionable that he is not here. It is just not very smart," said U.S. Adm. Leighton W. Smith, the IFOR commander who hosted the meeting Monday.

IFOR officials said Tolimir will meet this morning in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters, with British Lt. Gen. Michael Walker, commander of NATO ground forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. IFOR said Tolimir requested the meeting, the second in four days between the two men, after missing the Adriatic session.

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