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Bosnian peace too weak to stand

Published Sep. 16, 2005

If we have to salute Richard Holbrooke for trying to make his Bosnian peace agreement work, it needs redoing so often that we have to wonder if it will ever be more than cosmetic as long as Radovan Karadzic is running around and the Croats of Mostar thumb their noses at everybody.

Karadzic is the leader of the Bosnian Serbs who faxed Holbrooke a promise to give up all political activities.

The Croats in the city of Mostar have shown they have no intention of abiding by the results of a recent election that the Muslims won.

Except for one time, which may or may not be their downfall, the leaders of the former Yugoslavia have read the leaders of the Western world so accurately that they have been able to get away with large-scale murder. And now they may again.

That one occasion came last August when Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, also indicted for war crimes, went one step too far in their genocidal ethnical cleansing of the Muslims of Bosnia.

Beginning with President Clinton, the Western leaders were almost shamed into the bombing campaign that at last called their bluff and allowed Holbrooke to knock heads together in Dayton, Ohio, in November. This put an end to the war in Bosnia, at least temporarily.

But the agreement itself had so many holes in it that Karadzic, Mladic and the Croats of Mostar have calculated that all they need to do is stonewall and do little or nothing to carry the agreement out until U.S. and other NATO troops go home by the end of the year.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who almost has escaped notice, may have calculated the same thing.

The question is whether they have all miscalculated again by gambling that little or nothing really bad is going to happen to them during the American election campaign.

The Clinton administration brought back former Deputy Secretary of State Holbrooke from his new Wall Street job this month in an effort to force Milosevic to get rid of Karadzic so that Karadzic can't screw up the elections scheduled for mid-September.

These elections are designed to bring peace-seeking moderate leadership to power in all parts of Bosnia, Serb and Croat as well as Muslim. The theory is that the 60,000 NATO troops, a third of them American, can then go home and leave it to the Bosnians to work things out together.

All this reveals a jerry-built edifice that can only stand with the addition of a few more foundation blocks, which are:

The arrest of Karadzic, a fugitive, along with Mladic, on an international arrest warrant issued by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Tudjman's compliance with his promises to deliver indicated Croat war criminals and also get rid of the criminal gangs in Mostar who are blocking recognition of the recent municipal elections.

Those two things being done, there may be a chance for free and reasonably unfettered elections. Karadzic's followers will be defanged and the shaky federation between Muslims and Croats may be saved. Free movement of people across ethnic lines may begin to take place as promised at Dayton. Moderate politicians may have a chance in September.

As the horrors come out in The Hague about what happened when he conquered the Bosnian town of Srebrenica last summer, it would be nice to arrest Mladic, too, because he still seems in firm command of the Bosnian Serb army and is, sickeningly for most of us, being treated as a national hero.

It will be easier to get Karadzic first. Failure to get either of them is likely to be disastrous for the future of Bosnia.

What happened in Mostar is this: On June 30, with NATO troops watching, 50,000 people on both sides of the city voted for a new town council.

Muslims were a slight majority before the war, and the result was a narrow Muslim victory. The Croats have challenged the results on the basis of 26 ballots unaccounted for in one polling station.

They have refused to attend council meetings, and the city remains divided, illegally, by Croat police. European Union officials blame black marketeers and others on the Croat side who benefit from the division.

If Mostar doesn't work _ if Tudjman refuses to make it work _ then the Muslim-Croat federation is likely to be finished and with it the Dayton accords.

Tudjman also has refused to do anything about the 150,000 Serbs driven out of Krajina last August; yes, Serbs victims this time. And while he has promised to hand over those indicted for war crimes, the most notorious, Dario Kordic, was seen sitting behind him at a concert in Zagreb the other night.

The upshot of all this is that war in Bosnia could erupt again once everyone is rested, unless the United States and its allies correct things now, election campaign or not.