Unfinished Balkan Business

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By R. Nicholas Burns
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Ten years ago this month, United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia were chained to bridges by Bosnian Serbs, humiliated and unable to do anything to defend a helpless population. The entire international community was held hostage, incapable of summoning the will to stop the carnage. The region was in catastrophic conflict. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people had been killed. Millions more were displaced as Yugoslavia disintegrated. The Balkans were our top foreign policy priority, just as the war on terrorism is today, and for a fundamentally similar reason: the need to stop savage human rights abuses, stand against tyranny and defend the values at the heart of our democracy.

The Balkan wars ended because the United States and NATO finally acted. But 10 years later the region has still not secured the full peace and security needed to put its bloody past behind it. The United States has an opportunity this year to help the people of Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia take the final steps to a full peace. They want and need American diplomatic energy and leadership to help them get there.

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica. The United States is sending a presidential delegation to mourn the victims of this war crime. An important question is, who will represent the Serbs? Serbian President Boris Tadic has offered to attend, along with leaders of his country. A clear statement of contrition on behalf of the Serbs would be the best step toward regional reconciliation. An even more dramatic and fitting gesture would be the arrest and extradition to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague of Gen. Ratko Mladic, who ordered the murders. I told President Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade recently that the United States is prepared to undertake a new and expanded relationship if they capture Mladic. They say they are willing. Let us all hope so. I also told them that until he is brought to justice in The Hague, the United States will not support their wish to join NATO's Partnership for Peace. The Balkans cannot return to normality until the stain of Srebrenica is wiped away.

Later this year there will be another significant anniversary for the region. It was in November 1995 that the U.S.-inspired Dayton Accords were signed, in effect ending the war in Bosnia. That brilliant achievement of Richard Holbrooke, Chris Hill and other American officials was a diplomatic triumph. We hope all Bosnians will mark the anniversary by accelerating their efforts to overcome remaining differences and build a secure and durable state. The Dayton Accords have helped keep the peace for a decade and can serve the people of Bosnia well into the future.

But the Bosnian Serbs will not be able to put the past behind them until they find and extradite to The Hague another man responsible for unleashing hatred and war: Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. The Bosnian Serbs also need to put aside their obstructionism on defense and police reform. Bosnia-Herzegovina is today a more peaceful and hopeful place than 10 years ago, but it is still in need of greater tolerance and a commitment to create a truly multiethnic state.

The year 2005 is not just about remembering the past; it must also be a year of change and progress in Kosovo. Six years after the United States and NATO intervened there to stop Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic cleansing, the status quo is no longer sustainable. Kosovars have been living as wards of the international community. They have been given no realistic vision of what their future holds. If the U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, determines this summer that Kosovo has made sufficient progress in meeting standards of responsible self-governance, the United States will support U.N.-sponsored final-status talks to determine its future. We will continue to insist that any possible solution must be one that promotes regional stability and allows all minorities to live in a multiethnic society.

In 1999 the United States intervened to stop Serb ethnic cleansing. Now it is time to show tolerance for the dwindling numbers of Kosovar Serbs, who have every right to stay. If progress is to be made this year, the Albanian majority must signal that a future Kosovo will be tolerant and open to all minorities who still call it home.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are working with our European allies to fit the last piece of the puzzle -- a peaceful Balkans -- into our larger aim of a democratic peace in Europe. We are committed to use American determination to push for peace.

The writer is undersecretary of state for political affairs.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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