Yugo Digest: 1996-06-29

yugo_digest_logoThis Week: Fifth anniversary of war; 607th anniversary of Kosovo; Karadzic resignation rumors; tit-for-tat ethnic cleansing.

24 June 96, Mon

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic shattered Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic’s last hopes of surviving intense international pressure for his resignation when he demanded the Bosnian Serb leader’s instant departure under threat of reprisals. The Serbian leader’s ultimatum, after months of foot-dragging, took the Bosnian Serb government unawares. The Republika Srpska cannot function without support from Yugoslavia.

Comment: One, Milosevic may just be playing to the West to avoid renewed sanctions. Two, while an organized Republika Srpska would indeed have a hard time maintaining its independence without Yugoslav support (especially after Bosnia re-arms), its remnants could make life hell for the Muslim-Croat federation. Remember, with the exception of last Fall’s Croat blitzkrieg, this was not a mass war of maneuver — it was a war fought by small units using unconventional tactics. If the Republika Srpska were to be legally absorbed into Bosnia, individuals or small groups of Serbs would fight its integration.

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Bosnia exhumed the bodies of almost 47 Muslims from Ahatovici who were killed four years ago by Serbs. The Serbs herded them onto a bus to be exchanged for Serb prisoners. The bus never made it to Sarajevo. The Serbs stopped it near Sokolina, where they unleashed RPG’s and rifle fire at it until they thought all the Muslims were dead. Eight men survived.

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Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic may have suffered a stroke. Serb media report that he is in serious condition in the Belgrade military hospital. The June 20 stroke has affected his speech and put his life in danger. There has been no independent confirmation of the stroke, so it may be a ploy to avoid prosecution for war crimes.

Tit-for-Tat Ethnic Cleansing

Seventy-two Serbs were intimidated into leaving Sarajevo. Their neighborhoods had been controlled by the Republika Srpska prior to the Dayton Accord. The UN reports that more will leave unless the situation improves. “We are especially concerned over the harassment of [members of the] Serbian Democratic Initiative (SDI), the only organization that is trying to protect Serbs in those areas,” said U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said. (The Bosnian government arrested SDI member Bogdan Jovanovic, whom federal police arrested several weeks ago on suspicion of war crimes. Jovanovic remains in jail but no charges have been brought against him and no evidence has been produced.)In Banja Luka, the center of Republika Srpska’s ‘moderates’, 30 Muslims were driven from their homes. The evictions were triggered by the return of a Muslim refugee to his pre-war home. Several members of his family were beaten. Serb police refused to respond to his home.

Under the Dayton Accord, refugees and displaced people were supposed to be able to return to their homes. In fact, few have dared to cross tense ethnic boundary lines established during the war.

25 June 96, Tue

OSCE Chairman Flavio Cotti insisted Bosnian elections will go ahead on September 14 despite continued interference by the factional governments. Despite their intransigence, an OSCE diplomat insisted the elections will give an impetus to the factions to respect the civilian provisions of the treaty, such as freedom of movement and open media. The elections will be the most complicated in history, taking place on seven different levels in the Croat-Muslim federation and in the Republika Srpska.

Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic holds a commanding plurality of the Bosnian Serb vote despite not being allowed to stand for office by the Dayton Accord. Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) has 40.5% support. The Serbian Radical Party, led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, has 11% support, given nationalist parties a commanding lead over the Milosevic-sponsored Socialists who have 17.5%.

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A team of Finnish forensic experts began exhuming Muslims from mass graves near Kravice. Thousands of Muslim victims of the Srebrenica massacre are buried in the area. The Finns will also attempt to identify the remains so that they may be given proper burials by their kin or the Bosnian government. The project is expected to take four weeks.

Fifth Anniversary of War

Thousands of Slovenians braved cold, rainy weather to celebrate the country’s fifth anniversary of independence from Yugoslavia. The red, white and blue striped national flag decorated most buildings across the baroque capital and dancers in traditional embroidered costumes performed on a massive stage built at the heart of the city for the birthday bash. On June 25, 1991, legislatures in Ljubljana and Zagreb voted for independence from Yugoslavia. The dissolution of Yugoslavia began in 1987 with the rise to power in Serbia of Slobodan Milosevic on a platform of militant nationalism. After he subsequently failed to take control of the Yugoslav federation, he hamstrung its normal operations and blocked all attempts at constitutional reform. First Slovenia and Croatia, and then Macedonia and Bosnia, were left with no choice but to declare independence or find themselves part of a greater Serbia. Belgrade’s armed forces first fought a short and unsuccessful war against Slovenia. Subsequent conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia lasted much longer because Yugoslavia had armed and organized the Serbian minorities in those two republics.

26 June 96, Wed

Clinton declared that Iranian forces in Bosnia have officially left the country. The administration said Bosnia has ended its “military and intelligence relationship” with Iran and there are no “organized” foreign fighters left on government-controlled territory. National Security Council spokesman Brian Cullin admitted some Mujahideen remain “in civilian roles, but we see no evidence of any remaining organized mujahedin units, nor do we believe that any of the individuals remaining are engaged in military or intelligence activity.” The certification of compliance with the Dayton Accord clears the way for $70 million in U.S. military aid to Bosnia.

Comment: This needs to be carefully analyzed. Definitive words were not used, conditional ones were. For instance, as Cullin’s statement proves, “officially” is simply a matter of declaring the matter so, and does not mean it has occured or is complete. Also, the lack of organization does not mean that loose groups or individuals are not involved in operations or intelligence activities. And in Bosnia the transition from being a civilian to a soldier is simply a matter of picking up a weapon. That means the declaration is a political convenience to be able to more rapidly funnel aid to Bosnia.

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UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali criticized the human rights situation in Croatia. He wrote that the situation has not improved since February, when the U.N. published its last report on Croatia. Croatia has prevented Serb refugees from returning to their pre-war homes and discriminated against those who’ve managed to do so, denying them employment, pensions and legal documentation.

In addition, the Croatian “amnesty” of Serbs has proven to be less than comprehensive. Croatia excluded 811 Serbs alleged war criminals from the amnesty President Franjo Tudjman granted at Western insistence last month. Diplomats feel that the amnesty will help smooth the return of Eastern Slavonia from Serb to Croat control. The Justice Ministry says the list is not exhaustive. It includes eminent retired and current Yugoslav army officers, as well as notorius militia leaders such as Vojislav Seselj and Zeljko “Arkan” Raznjatovic. The list includes 59 Serbs convicted in absentia and 191 have had proceedings started against them.

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Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic claimed that Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic would soon resign. The Bosnian Serb parliament debated Karadzic’s fate after Serbian President Milosevic ordered his immediate removal. Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik said that parliament had decided to eliminate “all obstacles” to holding elections. There are rumors Karadzic will resign at the SDS party congress on Friday, June 28. However, Klickovic says Karadzic will only leave if Brcko remains in Bosnian Serb hands, and will still remain the leader of the SDS. Brcko is the choke point of the Posavina Corridor, which connects the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska. Serb control is vital to the continued existence of the Republika Srpska.

The West wants Karadzic to resign immediately, but he still enjoys considerable support among many ordinary Serbs who admire his defiance of Western powers.


27 June 96, Thu

The Clinton administration is increasing pressure on Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats to finally approve a joint defense law. A joint military is a condition for $300 million in U.S. organized military aid. Yesterday’s ‘no more Iranians’ declaration by Clinton was the only other barrier to opening the aid spigot.

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EU representative Carl Bildt rejected demands by Bosnian Serb hardliners for face-saving concessions in return for the resignation of President Radovan Karadzic. The Bosnian Serbs have made an art of stalling tactics, throwing up unacceptable conditions and making contradictory statements to buy time.

The Republika Srpska parliament continued to debate Karadzic’s future. In a possible sign of what the parliament may decide, Pale television has been reporting that Karadzic is receiving telegrams of support, urging him to stay in power.

According to the E.U. their problem is finding ways of bypassing hardliners to speak directly to the Bosnian Serb people and offer them aid. Bildt spokesman Colum Murphy said, “We think it is unfair the amount of aid that has been reaching the Bosnian Serbs, and we would prefer it would be greater.” However Bildt is pushing for the reimposition of sanctions — which would hurt the people he says he wants to help the most.

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The ICTY began hearing testimony against Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic. The hearing is not a trial in absentia, and is based on the tribunal’s Rule 61, drawn up specifically to deal with cases in which the accused is hiding behind a state’s refusal to hand him over. Two lists of charges have been drawn up for each of the two accused. The first concerns the war in Bosnia in general, and the other concerns the “direct responsibility” of Karadzic and Mladic in the killings that followed the fall of Srebrenica. At the end of the hearings, the tribunal is expected to issue an international arrest warrant for the two accused.

The ICTY rejected the request of Defense lawyer Igor Pantelic to sit in on the court’s initial hearing, ruling that he could only remain during the reading of the indictments. Thereafter he would be have to sit in the public gallery. Swedish prosecutor Eric Ostberg had argued that Pantelic should be admitted only if accompanied by Karadzic and Mladic to prevent the hearing from being turned into a trial in absentia. Pantelic also requested access to documents prepared by the prosecutor’s office. That request was also rejected for violating tribunal rules.

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Slovenia became the tenth country to gain associate partner status in the Western European Union (WEU), the defense structure of the European Union. Full WEU membership is contingent on EU membership.

New War Crimes Indictments

The ICTY indicted eight Serbs for war crimes commited in the Lasva Valley in 1992 and 1993. The indictments were actually handed down last November, but were not announced until this week to protect the safety of victims and witnesses. The Serbs are accused of torturing and raping Muslim women and selling them into sexual slavery. The landmark indictments mark the first time rape has been cited in war crimes proceedings as an instrument of torture.The ICTY also indicted eight members of the Croat HVO militia for attacks in the same area. The eight, including Dario Kordic, vice-president of the Croatian community in Bosnia, HVO commander General Tihomir Blaskic, are accused of taking part in systematic attacks on Moslem villages and murdering civilians. The assault on Ahmici, where 103 Muslims lost their lives, was specifically mentioned.

A Croat policeman accused of murdering four Muslim neighbors, including a man in a wheelchair, is the subject of a third new ICTY indictment.

Today’s new charges bring to 75 the number of suspects accused of war crimes, although one has since died. Seven accused are held in the tribunal’s Hague cells.

28 June 96, Fri

607th Anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo

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The G-7 industrial nations, meeting in Lyon, France, reaffirmed threats to re-impose sanctions on the Republika Srpska unless Karadzic resigned. They urged the Bosnian Serbs to “break from false leaders.” The E.U. has imposed a July 1 deadline for his resignation. The G-7 are the U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, France, England and Italy.

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The Serbian Democratic Party re-elected Radovan Karadzic as party leader by a vote of 353-1. Barring an arrest by IFOR or international police, Karadzic will continue to play an important role in Bosnian politics: his win assures him of four more years at the helm of the party that controls Bosnian Serb police, administration and media. The party has not nominated a candidate for the September 14 Bosnian elections.

Comment: A leader’s legitimacy derives not from his morals or how outsiders percieve him, but from whether or not his people support him. The only point of debate is whether or not the people should support an immoral leader. Given his support among Bosnian Serbs, there is no doubt that Karadzic is their leader — whether the West likes it or not.

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More than 2,000 U.S. troops are pulling out of Lukavac, Bosnia, headed for the Croatian border town of Slavonski Brod. It is the largest movement of U.S. troops since IFOR deployed to the country this past winter. The support troops are repositioning to allow for an eventual withdrawal.

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Two French peacekeepers were killed and nine were injured when their armored personnel carrier fell into a ravine on the Mount Igman road near Sarajevo. The accident occurred as the APC inched around a civilian vehicle which had broken down on the narrow road. A similar accident on the road killed several U.S. diplomats and soldiers on August 19, 1995.

Mladic Alive & Well

General Ratko Mladic apparently made a quick recovery from his ‘stroke’. Though reported by Yugoslav media to be clinging to life in a Belgrade hospital, he was interviewed by an AP reporter while celebrating St. Vitus Day and the Battle of Kosovo at his compound near Han Pijesak. The complex in Crna Rijeka, heavily guarded by soldiers armed with AK-47s, was built by Tito as a last refuge against foreign invasion.Mladic reviewed an honor guard, then broke a traditional cake baked for St. Vitus’ Day, and was addressed by the leading Serb Orthodox priest in the region, Metropolitan Nikolaj.

“You fought the war of liberation, and Friday what I wish you a more peaceful time,” the metropolitan said. “As a soldier, don’t ever forget your holy duty: to stand up for your people and their rights if need be.” Mladic solemnly bowed his head without saying a word.

Mladic otherwise passes his days caring for his bees and goats, each of which is named after a foreign dignitaries he doesn’t like. (One is named ‘Madeleine Albright’ after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.) What bothers Mladic most is not that he is a wanted man, but that the noise of NATO vehicles and tanks passing close by disturbs his bees.

29 June 96, Sat

The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) almost unconditionally backed Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic, leader of the less nationalist Serbian Democratic Party. SRS leader Vojislav Seselj said his party would even withdraw its own candidate. SRS backing turns Karadzic’s plurality of Bosnian Serb support into a majority.

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A teenage Muslim girl was recently abducted to be a mujahideen bride. Tricked into consuming a drugged drink, she was held captive until her family was tipped off by the imam who was to marry her. After her family rescued her, the mujahideen sought revenge by beating up her father and uncle and shooting up her house. Bosnian media have tried to cover the girl’s story, but only one sanitized report has appeared publicly due to government pressure. The kidnapping occurred on June 21, just five days before the United States announced that all “foreign forces” had left Bosnia. The incident stresses the influence that Islamic holy warriors established in Bosnia during the war — after four years of war, a huge migration of rural folk to urban centers and the influx of thousands of foreign mujahideen have given Moslem fundamentalism a toe-hold across the country.

Ill Omens for Mostar Election

Croat ultranationalists kicked off the last phase of their election campaign with a bang early this morning — literally. After bombarding the Cafe San Remo with menacing notes for a week, one of their minions bombed it for real. The cafe is run by a moderate Croat. “I guess I’m not racist enough,” said owner Goran Mestrovic as he shoveled the remnants of his business into a wheelbarrow. “This is the Croat election campaign.”More than 2,500 IFOR soldiers, 400 IPTF police and 1,800 local police are on hand to prevent violence. Given the dubious protection they’ve so far offered, many people may not risk attack simply to vote.

French commander General Lambert claimed that “all candidates are protected because they are in an area where NATO is guaranteeing security.” Opposition officials laughed at his assurances. (In the past week, four opposition candidates have withdrawn from the election after one candidate was beaten and others received death threats.)

Mostar provides a taste of what is to come in the more important September election.

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