Facebook Twitter

TRANSFER OF SERB OFFICERS COULD PUT PEACE AT RISK

SHARE TRANSFER OF SERB OFFICERS COULD PUT PEACE AT RISK

NATO's delivery of two Serb military officers to the custody of a U.N. war-crimes court gravely threatens the accord that ended 42 months of war, Bosnian Serbs cautioned Tuesday.

The two Serb officers, arrested by the Muslim-led Bosnian government, were taken Monday to a prison in The Hague, Netherlands, where the U.N. war-crimes tribunal will question them and decide whether to have them stand trial."This is a dangerous precedent," said Velibor Ostojic, a senior figure in the Bosnian Serb hierarchy. "All this gravely jeopardizes further implementation of the peace agreement."

Although strongly worded, their statement stopped short of threatening retaliation.

The tribunal, which has only one of 52 indicted Bosnians in custody, will decide "sooner rather than later" whether to charge the Serbs, tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said.

The government's arrest of Gen. Djordje Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic on Jan. 30 provoked the first major crisis since peace took hold in Bosnia two months ago.

The Serbs retaliated by breaking off all ties with the NATO-led force implementing peace and Bosnia's federation of Croats and Muslims.

Although Serb civilian officials later said they would cooperate with NATO, ties with the federation continue suspended, and it remained unclear Tuesday whether the Serb military would follow the civilian example of restoring links with NATO.

Col. John Kirkwood, a NATO spokesman, called cooperation with the Serbs "spotty." He was unable to provide a single instance of recent contact between senior Serb authorities and NATO officials.

The Bosnian Serb delegation did not show up in Vienna Tuesday for a meeting on reducing the arsenals of the former warring factions.

NATO peacekeepers took Djukic and Krsmanovic in a convoy bristling with guns from a central Sarajevo jail to a stadium on the north side of the city. There, they boarded a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter that flew them to Sarajevo airport for a flight on a military C-130 Hercules transport plane bound for The Hague.

NATO officials said Tuesday that they acted on a request from Richard Goldstone, chief judge of the Hague tribunal.

The Bosnian government accuses them of civilian massacres in Sarajevo. Chartier said the men could also become witnesses in other war-crimes cases.

The decision to hand over the two Serbs to the tribunal came after Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. mediator who crafted the Bosnian peace plan, flew to the region to try to resolve the crisis caused by the arrests. He was widely believed to be instrumental in the transfer.

The transfer could ease the heat on the Bosnian government and put it on international organizations, such as NATO and the United Nations, better able to withstand Serb criticism. If the tribunal decides not to charge the two Serbs, the transfer could serve as a vehicle for their release without embarrassing the government.

Holbrooke also wrested a separate agreement Monday from the government not to arrest any more suspects without the authorization of the tribunal.

Bosnian army sources say Djukic is senior enough to possibly provide evidence against President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. Milosevic is widely accused of instigating the war in Bosnia before abandoning his Bosnian Serb proteges and forcing them to accept a deal to end the war.

Milosevic has not been indicted for war crimes.

Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations, Muhamed Sacirbey, told Associated Press Television that the two officers may have information that "is very sensitive, and could be very damning to both the military and to the political structures in Belgrade," the Serbian capital.

The case of the two Serb officers highlights the difficulties the NATO-led force in Bosnia faces. Officers say they will not go out looking for suspected war criminals, but will arrest them if they come across them in performing other duties.

The Bosnian Serbs are led by Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, both indicted on war crimes charges.

In a move aimed at reducing Serb edginess, Bosnia's parliament adopted a law Monday granting amnesty for all in former enemy armies except war crimes suspects.

Elsewhere, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel of Germany arrived in Zagreb, Croatia, in a new effort to smooth rifts in Mostar, a southwestern city divided between Croats and Muslims.

Refusal by radical Croats to reunite Mostar and erase traces of a bitter, year-long war between Bosnian Croats and Muslims threatens the Croat-Muslim federation. With the peace plan specifiying that Bosnia is to be divided between the federation and the Serbs, the plan would be doomed if the federation fails.