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U.S. Brokers a Compromise Over Balkan War Criminals

By Dean E. Murphy
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

U.S. officials said Monday they had brokered a compromise between the Bosnian government and Bosnian Serbs over the explosive issue of arresting war crimes suspects in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

They hope the deal will ease mounting tensions over the arrest of two top Bosnia Serb military commanders last month by the Bosnian government. Although in a move likely to draw further ire from the Bosnian Serb military, the officers were flown by NATO peacekeeping forces late Monday from Sarajevo to the Hague for investigation by the International War Crimes Tribunal.

"It ain't over until it's over, but I am guardedly positive," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke in an interview Monday. "I think we made some progress today. We laid down some rules to prevent misunderstandings."

Under the arrangement, the Muslim-led Bosnian government will detain only those Bosnian Serbs classified by the war-crime tribunal as suspects. Other Bosnian Serbs, including military officials, who enter government territory will not be bothered or apprehended, thereby guaranteeing freedom of movement as required by the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord.

Bosnian Serb Gen. Djordje Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, who were arrested after straying from a Serb suburb of Sarajevo, have been identified by the tribunal as suspected war criminals, though the U.N. court determined that only after the men had been detained.

Holbrooke, the lead negotiator of the peace accord, is scheduled to quit the Clinton administration this month. But he rushed to the Balkans over the weekend for n arm-twisting session after the detentions, coupled with deepening strains in the divided Muslim-Croat city of Mostar, threatened the calm that has prevailed here since the Dayton deal was signed two months ago.

The arrests of Djukic and Krsmanovic caused Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, himself indicted by the tribunal on genocide charges, to order a break in military ties with NATO forces and the Bosnian government.

It was unclear Monday whether the compromise would appease Mladic, who is banned from talks because of his status as an accused war criminal. But Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who has represented the Bosnian Serbs, endorsed the deal, officials said.

Holbrooke turns Tuesday to the problems in Mostar, where some Bosnian Croats have violently opposed municipal boundaries drawn by international arbiters. Holbrooke has made it clear the United States endorses the boundaries, and he will push Croatian President Franjo Tudjman during a meeting in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, to accept them or risk destabilizing the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia.

"We are going to talk about that, and the whole strengthening of the federation," said Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, who has joined Holbrooke in the talks. "It is going to be another series of bumps on the road."

Holbrooke said the need for U.S. involvement will probably continue long after his departure from the State Department.

"There are going to be more of these kinds of things," he said. "It is just inevitable. These people were at war, thy still hate each other, but agreed to a peace, not every detail of which could be pinned down in 21 days at Dayton."

Officials with the NATO peacekeeping force, known as IFOR, were conducting country-wide survey Monday to determine how widely Mladic's instructions have been followed by the rank-and-file, and whether Monday's agreement will restore broken contacts. Since Mladi issued his order last week, IFOR said ties have been patchy, but evidence has been only anecdotal.

Bosnian Serb political leaders, including Radovan Karadzic, also an indicted ar crimes suspect, have repeatedly said they do not support Mladic's directive. But their influence over the military is limited, and Mladic has refused to voluntarily hand over power.

Bosnian Serb Television reported Monday night that 10,000 people rallied in the town of Sokolac east of Sarajevo against the war crimes tribunal and in support of Mladic and Karadzic.

In an interview, Shattuck said U.S. officials believe Mladic is losing influence among Bosnian serbs, but the loyalty he commands among some soldiers presents a constant threat.

"The hatreds and fear run so deep based on the horrors of this conflict, that what you get is people still pretending to e leaders, irresponsibly playing on these fears." Shattuck said. "Their followers in the public are fewer and fewer."