Bosnian Chief May Take Islamic Aid
With expectations low for Geneva talks, Izetbegovic says West's failure to help leaves his nation few alternatives
BOSNIAN President Alija Izetbegovic told Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr. and Clinton transition team officials this weekend that the West had so far "done very little" to help his besieged country and that he may soon accept military help from the Islamic world.Skip to next paragraph
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Such help, which seems likely to include troops, advisers, and equipment from countries such as Turkey and Iran, would add a new dimension to the crisis, given centuries of Turkish domination in the region. But because of "the genocide we have suffered I must try to help our people," Izetbegovic told reporters here Friday during a whirlwind visit to the United States.
Underscoring his message, Izetbegovic yesterday flew to Dakar, Senegal, in Turkish President Turgut Ozal's plane to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that has been convened to discuss humanitarian and military aid to Bosnia. The Muslim nations are likely to reiterate their call for United Nations intervention in the Balkans. 5,000 troops
But Izetbegovic will also be offered at least 5,000 troops, probably Iranian, who are ready to be sent to Bosnia immediately, according to Turkish sources in Washington. Acceptance of the troops will depend on the progress of the UN peace talks under way in Geneva, sources near Izetbegovic said.
The status of the Geneva talks remains unclear following brutal murder by Serb soldiers of Bosnian Deputy Prime Minister Hakija Turajlic. Turajlic was shot Friday after his UN convoy was hijacked by Serb forces. He was returning from an airport meeting with Turkish officials.
According to members of Bosnia's mission to the US, Mr. Gore, who met with Izetbegovic for 40 minutes on Friday, expressed anger with the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb government in Belgrade and said many in the next administration wanted to "do something" about the crisis.
After eight months of inaction on Bosnia, Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger last month toughened his rhetoric on the issue, and President Bush warned Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic not to allow the war to spread to the neighboring province of Kosovo. But the Bosnians think they have reason to hope the new administration will bring a firmer resolve. Gore, for instance, interrupted a busy transition weekend and flew from Texas to New York to see the Bosnian leader. Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Colorado, the
Secretary of Defense-designate, said Thursday the US should push to lift the UN arms embargo on Bosnia.
But analysts warn that these comments may not reflect the foreign policy consensus of the new administration. Gore's spokeswoman, Marla Romesh, said the vice president-elect found the meeting an opportunity "to listen and learn."
In a Monitor interview while in Washington, Izetbegovic also said he expected the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman not to reinvite the UN peacekeepers in that country when the UN mandate runs out in March: "They want the UN out, and we support them in this regard. We wish them well in their efforts to take back the land inside their borders." Serbian forces captured 30 percent of Croatian land in 1991.
Izetbegovic also said he was under pressure in Geneva to offer amnesty to all Serbian prisoners, regardless of their status. He will resist this request however. "There are two categories - ordinary prisoners, and war criminals. We will give amnesty to prisoners, but nothing will make us give up war criminals."
The Bosnian president's trip to the US, sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, combined elements of controversy, desperation, and tragedy. Showing signs of strain from a grueling schedule and chaos in his government and struggling with a leg ailment, Izetbegovic came to the US to elaborate on the genocide in Bosnia and to state how far the government in Sarajevo is willing to compromise on the Geneva peace plan.