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Balkan Leaders OK Bosnia Pact

By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 22, 1995; Page A01

DAYTON, OHIO, Nov. 21 -- The presidents of Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia today initialed a U.S.-sponsored peace settlement for Bosnia, pledging to bring to an end a fratricidal 3 1/2-year war that has caused the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people.

The comprehensive peace agreement, which was reached after three weeks of roller-coaster negotiations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, divides Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian Serb entity, while preserving a weak central government. It permits approximately 2 million refugees, who were expelled during successive waves of "ethnic cleansing," to return to their homes and will reunite the capital Sarajevo under federation control.

"This day will go into history as the end of the war in the former Yugoslavia," Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic told the ceremony where the pact was approved. Milosevic, who unleashed a wave of nationalist fury through the country in 1991 with his vision of a "Greater Serbia," said that there could be "no winners" in a civil war, "only losers."

Announcing the peace accord earlier in the White House Rose Garden, President Clinton said implementation of the settlement was dependent on the deployment of up to 60,000 NATO troops, including about 20,000 Americans, to police a 2 1/2-mile-wide demilitarized zone between the warring parties. Some advance units may start arriving in Bosnia within two weeks, while the bulk of the peacekeeping force will be deployed only after a formal signing of the accord at a full-scale peace conference in Paris expected by mid-December.

Clinton expressed confidence that the Republican-controlled Congress, which has been deeply skeptical of the idea of sending U.S. troops to Bosnia, would approve the deployment plans.

"The parties have chosen peace. America must choose peace as well," the president said, summing up what is likely to be the central theme of his campaign to persuade the American public to support the peace agreement.

As the Balkan leaders initialed the agreement, the United Nations Security Council took steps to suspend economic sanctions against Serbian-led Yugoslavia and an arms embargo that applied to all six former Yugoslav republics, including Bosnia. The sanctions caused economic devastation in Serbia and its ally Montenegro, and appear to have been a major factor in the transformation of Milosevic from warmaker to peacemaker.

Announcement of the agreement followed days and nights of stormy negotiations, with the outcome of the talks appearing to swing within hours from success to failure and back to success again. Sensing that the tide of the war had finally turned in its direction, the Muslim-led Bosnian government held out until the last moment for a series of concessions from the Serbs on territory and political arrangements.

A U.S. official described the final agreement as a "fantastic deal" for the Muslims, even though it gives 49 percent of the Bosnian territory to the Serbs, who make up around one-third of the population. The Muslim-led Bosnian government succeeded in blocking the principal Serb demand for a widening of a three-mile-wide land corridor between Serb-controlled territory in northern and eastern Bosnia, which would have had the effect of creating a much more strategically viable Bosnian Serb entity.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, whose Hamlet-like indecision over signing away half of Bosnia proved to be a major obstacle to a settlement, said the agreement would guarantee the development of an "open society" in Bosnia. "This may not be a just peace, but it is more just than a continuation of the war," the president said.

By contrast, Bosnian Serb leaders, who had authorized Milosevic to negotiate on their behalf, denounced the peace settlement as a sellout. The president of the Bosnian Serb parliament, Momcilo Krajisnik, said that the agreement did not "even satisfy a minimum of our interests. We have warned President Milosevic that no one has the right to sign such a plan."

Questioned about the Bosnian Serb opposition to the peace plan, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said that the United States would look to Milosevic to ensure that the Bosnian Serbs fully implemented the agreement. A European negotiator said that Milosevic had repeatedly overruled the objections of the Bosnian Serb delegation during the talks, most notably on the question of Sarajevo.

The agreement will oblige the Bosnian Serbs to give up the Sarajevo suburbs of Grbovica and Ilidja, as well as the airport, to the federation in order to create a united capital. The territorial changes will connect the capital to federation territory to the west, thereby ending the siege of Sarajevo, one of the most powerful symbols of the suffering caused by the war.

Sarajevo proved an intensely emotional issue throughout the negotiations, with both sides rejecting a U.S. proposal to put the city under international administration. In the end, Milosevic accepted that the city should go to the Bosnian government side, but that the Serbs would retain control of their "capital" Pale, a ski resort several miles to the east of Sarajevo.

"You have earned Sarajevo," U.S. officials quoted Milosevic as telling Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. "You lived there while it was being shelled for the past three years. It will be your capital."

In return for surrendering control of Sarajevo, the Serbs insisted on broadening the so-called Brcko corridor linking the two parts of their territory, at the expense of the Bosnian Croats. But the deal was rejected by the Croatian foreign minister in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, creating a crisis that almost led to the collapse of the talks.

Instead of the widening of the Brcko corridor, the Serbs will be awarded a kidney-shaped swath of largely mountainous territory in western Bosnia, around the towns of Sipovo and Mrkonjic Grad, which were seized by Croatian forces during an offensive last summer. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman agreed to the concession on Monday afternoon during a phone call with President Clinton.

Although one crisis had been averted, another erupted late Monday when the Bosnians insisted on control over Brcko itself, a small city at the mouth of the corridor. The issue was finally resolved around 3 a.m. today, when international negotiators proposed submitting the matter to international adjudication.

In a final act of brinksmanship, outgoing Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhammed Sacirbey called reporters after 1 a.m. today to tell them that he had been informed by U.S. diplomats that the talks had been "called off." U.S. officials accused Sacirbey of exaggerating last-minute problems to secure a final negotiating advantage -- and in an interview with Reuter, Sacirbey acknowledged doing so as a negotiating tactic.

The agreement commits all parties to "cooperate fully" with the international war crimes tribunal, which has been investigating human rights atrocities during the war. U.S. officials insisted that this will result in the rapid removal from office of the two top Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, both of whom have been indicted for war crimes.

"Their future is not bright," quipped chief American negotiator Richard C. Holbrooke, at a news conference. Other American officials said they believe that Milosevic will make the two men "disappear," one way or the other.

Holbrooke, who laid the groundwork for today's accord with two months of shuttle diplomacy around Balkan capitals this fall, acknowledged that implementation of the agreements would prove a "daunting task." "On paper, we have peace," he told his fellow negotiators and Balkan leaders. "To make it work is our next and greatest challenge."

The objections of Bosnian Serb leaders to the peace accord suggest that the international implementation force will face an uphill struggle to ensure respect for the accords, begining with a Serb pullback from Sarajevo. Although the agreement and its 11 annexes provide for a joint Bosnian police force, there are no arrangements for integrating the rival armies, one of the key elements of a common state.

The agreement also provides for "free and democratic" elections for a Bosnian parliament and collective presidency within six to nine months of the signing of the peace agreement. Refugees will have the right to vote in their original place of residence.

The top American military negotiator, Gen. Wes Clark, said that deployment of American peacekeepers should begin soon after the formal signing of a peace agreement in Paris in mid-December. He said that a significant portion of the peacekeeping force could be in place by Christmas.

Military provisions of the peace agreement include an obligation for both parties to withdraw their forces behind the cease-fire line within 30 days of the signing of the accord, and to withdraw all heavy weapons to barracks within 120 days. The Bosnian Serbs will be required to reduce their military potential to the level where it is no longer a threat to the federation.

If the Bosnian Serbs do not disarm, the United States has given assurances to the Bosnian government that it will level the playing field by equipping and training the Bosnian army. Bosnian leaders were unable to secure written promises from the Pentagon to ship weapons immediately.

Key Elements of the Pact

Eastern Slavonia: The region seized in 1991 by the Serbian-led Yugoslav army will be ceded back to Croatia.

Brcko corridor: Serbs failed to get this corridor between their territory widened. The status of the city of Brcko itself will be decided in binding international arbitration.

Mrkonjic Grad: Croats to cede some land to Serbs.

Sarajevo: Capital to be reunited under Muslim-Croat federation control.

Gorazde: Muslim-led government will retain the city with a secure link to Sarajevo.

In addition to the territorial issues, the following structural arrangements have been decided:

*Bosnia will be a single country divided in two parts, a Muslim-Croat federation and a Bosnian Serb republic.

* The president and parliament will be chosen in democratic, internationally monitored elections.

*The parliament's membership will be two-thirds Muslim and Croat and one-third Serb.

*The central government in Sarajevo will be responsible for foreign and economic policy, citizenship, immigration and other issues.

* Refugees will be allowed to return home, with free movement guaranteed.

* People charged with war crimes will be barred from government.

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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