Bosnian Serbs Free Monitor Reporter

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BOSNIAN Serb leader Radovan Karadzic yesterday released Christian Science Monitor reporter David Rohde. Mr. Rohde had been detained by the Bosnian Serbs since Oct. 29, when he drove alone into Bosnian Serb-held territory.

''The Monitor is delighted that David Rohde has been released,'' Monitor Editor David Cook said.

In a statement faxed to the Associated Press, Mr. Karadzic said Rohde was freed ''as a sign of goodwill and contribution to the peace talks'' in Dayton, Ohio.

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A Bosnian Serb police official in Bijeljina, the town in northeastern Bosnia where Rohde was imprisoned, said Rohde was turned over to Serbian officials, who he said mediated the release. Rohde was taken to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, where he was turned over to the US Embassy. He is expected to return to the US with his brother, Lee.

Bosnian Serb authorities say they tried and convicted Rohde last week on charges of entering their territory illegally with falsified documents. The trial was held in Serbo-Croatian, with no interpreter, no defense lawyer, and no US official present. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison. The Bosnian Serb press agency also claimed Rohde was facing charges for ''the most serious form of espionage, punishable by three to 15 years (imprisonment) in peacetime and 10 years to death in wartime,'' AP reported. But it also said Karadzic was considering pardoning Rohde after receiving a letter from the reporter's father, Harvey Rohde.

The announcement followed days of effort by American and United Nations officials, Rohde family members, and Monitor editors. Rohde's brother, Lee Rohde, arrived in Sarajevo Tuesday hoping to meet David Rohde upon his release.

US Secretary of State Warren Christopher intervened Tuesday with a stern personal letter to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is leading the Serbian delegation to the Bosnian peace talks in Dayton. ''It said Rohde should be released immediately, that there is no justification for his being held by the Bosnian Serbs,'' State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told a press conference Tuesday.

On Monday, Mr. Burns said the Bosnian Serbs had used ''kangaroo court'' tactics to detain Rohde. ''The way that the Bosnian Serbs have handled the case of Mr. Rohde has been utterly irresponsible.... We call for his immediate release.''

''Now that David is safe, we want to state unequivocally that David was on a journalistic assignment for the Monitor,'' Mr. Cook said. ''Claims that he was engaged in espionage are totally false.''

Rohde, the Monitor's East European correspondent, was the first Western correspondent to locate mass graves of Bosnian Muslims massacred by Bosnian Serb forces after the fall in July of the government enclave of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. He later located eyewitnesses to the massacre, which has since been confirmed by the United Nations, and wrote about the Dutch peacekeepers who evacuated the area when the Bosnian Serbs attacked.

Bosnian Serb authorities said Rohde was detained near Zvornik, not far from where some of the massacres took place.

After several days of conversations with US and UN officials and Monitor editors, in which Bosnian Serb sources gave conflicting answers as to whether Rohde had been detained and where he was being held, the Bosnian Serb news agency Friday night admitted that Rohde was under arrest.

Members of the Rohde family and of the Monitor staff flew to Dayton Friday night and met Saturday with US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who is mediating the peace talks. After a meeting the same day with Bosnian Serb representative Nikola Koljevic, family members spoke with Rohde by telephone. Rohde appeared to be in good health and reported little mistreatment, but expressed concern about possible further criminal charges.

UN and US officials visited Rohde in Bijeljina Sunday after driving many hours from Sarajevo through a mountain snowstorm, but were unable to win his release at that time. Rohde, who was held in a cell with four other men, was in good health, but fatigued, they reported. He did not appear to have been beaten or mistreated other than being roughed up during his arrest.

''This outcome would not have been possible without help from from a large group of people,'' said J. Anthony Periton, editor in chief of The Christian Science Publishing Society. ''We particularly want to thank the US State Department, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Committee to Protect Journalists.''

''We also acknowledge with gratitude the aid we have received from our journalistic colleagues here and in Bosnia, and from various political leaders,'' Cook said.

''It is our experience that a quick response and a very public response is the most effective to deal with this [type of] situation,'' said William Orme, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Rohde has been stationed in Zagreb, Croatia, for the Monitor since November 1994. He previously covered national news, reporting from Boston, New York, and Washington.

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