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NATO Threatens to Maintain Bosnian Serb Sanctions as Compliance Levels Stay Low

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

NATO officials said Thursday that contacts have still not been re-established with top Bosnian Serb military leaders, despite assurances last weekend in Rome that the boycott would end.

The continued lack of cooperation, described by NATO commanders as a serious breach of the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord, led to an ultimatum by NATO on Thursday: Resume required ties within 48 hours or economic sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs will not be eased.

"What we are hoping is that the commitment that everybody showed to the Rome agreement will now be carried through," NATO Lt. Gen. Michael J.D. Walker said in an interview. "It isn't. We can see that clearly."

The tough stance came just a day after the NATO command here issued a statement that it will recommend to the North Atlantic Council, the governing body of the Atlantic alliance, that the Bosnian Serbs be deemed in general compliance with military aspects of the peace accord.

Such an assessment is necessary for economic sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, imposed near the beginning of the war, to be suspended by the U.N. Security Council. Negotiators in Rome pledged last week to have the sanctions discontinued as an incentive for greater Bosnian Serb cooperation.

But Walker, who commands NATO ground forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said the statement of compliance has been put on hold until the 48-hour deadline passes and NATO determines whether military contacts have been reinstated. The issue is so serious, he said, that lack of cooperation in that one area - despite general Bosnian Serb fulfillment of other provisions - would result in a recommendation that sanctions remain intact.

The continuing tug-of-war with the Bosnian Serbs has frustrated NATO's top commanders, who were left standing Monday on the deck of a U.S. aircraft carrier waiting - in vain - for Bosnian Serb Maj. Gen. Zdravko Tolimir to show up for a planned meeting of Muslim, Croat and Serb military commanders from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Walker, in a candid acknowledgment of NATO's awkward negotiating stance, said it has become clear in sessions with Tolimir that Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader indicted on war crimes, is still running military operations.

Under the Dayton accord, NATO does not officially recognize Mladic's authority because of the criminal charges against him, thereby elevating Tolimir to the position of No. 1 contact.

"He doesn't, sadly, act with the authority of the representative commander in chief of an army," Walker said of Tolimir. "He is quite clearly looking over his shoulder back at the main headquarters."

The standoff with the Bosnian Serb military continued Thursday as the evacuation of Serb-populated suburbs of Sarajevo shifted into high gear.