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Strife in Three-Person Presidency Threatens Peace Again in Bosnia

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Bosnian Serb member of a just-elected three-person presidency Thursday backed away slightly from his goal of uniting with Serbia proper but tossed up another batch of objections that will thwart Bosnia's new government.

Illustrating the complexity of forming Bosnia's postwar institutions, Momcilo Krajisnik rejected the idea of sitting with his presidential colleagues in Sarajevo - the capital under Muslim-Croat control that the Bosnian Serbs spent much of a 3-year war trying to destroy.

Many of Krajisnik's statements, the first since his election, were muted and careful. But he also exhibited a much lower level of cooperation than portrayed earlier in the day by Carl Bildt, the international coordinator of the Bosnian peace plan.

Bildt said he was confident that he could persuade the three presidents - a Serb, a Muslim and a Croat - to share power and work together as a handful of ethnically mixed government bodies are constructed here. But already, disagreements have emerged over where the presidency should meet, how long its chair should serve and even over the term "government," which the Serbs reject.

Contradicting the West's interpretation of the U.S.-brokered Dayton, Ohio, accord, Krajisnik said he believed the chair of the presidency to which he was elected should rotate, meaning he and his Muslim and Croat counterparts would each be allowed to serve at the head for eight months. In fact, the two-year lead post is supposed to go to the top vote-getter in last Saturday's election, according to international officials in charge of executing the peace plan.

"It is unfathomable that a Muslim who was president for the last six years should be president for the next two years," Krajisnik said at a news conference in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, a ski resort nine miles southeast of Sarajevo.

Krajisnik said he thought the new presidency ought to govern from a building put up along the boundary line that divides the Serb and Muslim-Croat halves of Bosnia. He offered a much wider definition of Sarajevo than international mediators recognize. His includes Serb-held suburbs south of the capital. "Pale is also Sarajevo," he said. "There are so many beautiful places in Sarajevo' where we can meet."

Krajisnik indicated he had given up, for now, the goal of uniting the Bosnian Serb Republic with Serbia proper. But he said reunification of the divided country was not in the cards. "Re-integration should be of something that was once integrated," he said.

Asked if he were the best man for the job, Krajisnik said there were many other more fit candidates "especially one man whose name cannot be mentioned." He was alluding to indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader who is banned from public politics but whose influence reigns.

Krajisnik accused the West - implicitly the United States - of rigging the vote count to give an advantage to Bosnian Serb opposition candidates, some of whom fared surprisingly well. But he said his nationalist Serb Democratic Party, or SDS, prevailed in the end by winning a legislative majority. "God saved the SDS and the Serbian people," Krajisnik said. "And whoever is against God and the Serbian people has to lose."