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NEWS ANALYSIS

Bosnia Accord Failing in Multiethnic Goals

Balkans: The Dayton, Ohio, agreement has ended the war, but hopes for an integrated nation are all but dead.

June 11, 1996|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Six months into the U.S.-brokered peace process in Bosnia, with the West facing a long list of defeats and struggling for new tactics, some mediators privately concede that the accord's central elements--reunification, the return home of refugees--are all but a lost cause.

"We are losing the race against the bad guys in Bosnia," said one senior international official involved in executing the peace accord. "There are more voices now for giving up."

Officials and mediators, who meet this week in Florence, Italy, to assess these last six months, are not yet willing to publicly write off the Dayton, Ohio, accord. But the landscape they are surveying is as bleak as the empty, devastated front-line neighborhoods around Sarajevo and throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.

* There have been very few returns of refugees across ethnic lines, most blocked by recalcitrant local authorities determined to enforce ethnic segregation. As many as 2 million people were driven from their homes at the start of the war.

* Indicted war crimes suspects--principally Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and military chief Ratko Mladic--not only continue to run free but also continue to run governments. They exercise considerable influence, restrict the press and inspire fellow hard-liners.

* The Muslim-Croat federation, considered essential to holding Bosnia together, remains bitterly divided. Last week, Muslims and Croats failed again to pass a law unifying their armies, even though the legislation would probably clear the way for millions of dollars in U.S. military aid.

*

Bosnian Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders routinely flout the rules and commitments they made in signing up for peace. The result is a cementing of the de facto ethnic partition that the Dayton accord, in theory, was meant to reverse. The vision of a multiethnic Bosnia advocated in the peace accord is all but dead.

In this context and under U.S. pressure, Bosnia must hold national elections by Sept. 14. Most human rights and monitoring groups say conditions for free and fair elections do not exist, and Washington has now acquiesced to allowing the vote to take place with Karadzic still in power, despite the opinion of many international mediators that he poisons the political environment in the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska.

"Unless bold and resolute action is taken now . . . , the international community is looking at the imminent disintegration of Bosnia and a probable reignition of war in the Balkans," the London-based International Crisis Group, an independent monitoring organization, said in a report to be issued this week.

"The stakes could not be higher," the report said. "Not just Bosnia, but neighboring countries of the region, the European Union and NATO will all be at risk if there is a renewal of fighting in Bosnia."

The undisputed success of the accord has been a cease-fire that has held. Three enemy armies have largely withdrawn to their barracks, the killing has for the most part stopped and cities such as this capital are no longer under grueling siege.

Yet the elements in the accord that are lagging are precisely the ones that would transform Bosnia's armistice into lasting peace.

U.S. Adm. Leighton W. Smith, commander of the 60,000-strong NATO-led force here, reiterated last week his determination not to pursue war criminals or escort refugees trying to go home. That kind of action represents mission creep, in the view of the U.S. military, and would draw NATO-led troops into trickier, more complicated tasks.

At the same time, Smith conceded that the former warring factions show little political will to cooperate with the accord's requirements and that there is little he or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization can or will do about it.

"What we do not want to see is an ethnically divided country, but unless something changes, it is quite possible that that is where we will end up," Smith told a small group of reporters. "Actually--we are there now."

Smith, who will retire next year, is being replaced within the next few weeks as commander of the NATO-led operation. Some participants in the peace process hold out hope that a change in command means a change in mission. But commanders in Bosnia, at least, say that is not the case.

Peacemakers working in Bosnia are pleading for more decisive steps to increase the pressure on Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims. But no clear strategy has emerged. U.S. and other officials have lobbied Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Serbia and onetime patron of the Bosnian Serbs, to remove Karadzic and Mladic as one way to induce more compliance by the Serbs. But Milosevic has thus far refused.

"The problem for the international community has always been finding the proper levers," Carl Bildt, the high representative in charge of overseeing the peace plan, said through spokesman Colum Murphy. "If we can find levers, we can know how to move the process forward."

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