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Imperfect Peace Dogs US in Bosnia

US to war criminals: 'Cooperate or face the consequences'

By Jonathan S. Landay and David RohdeStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / December 4, 1995



WASHINGTON

MANY Serbs venerate Yugoslav Army Lt. Col. Veselin Slivancanin as a hero for helping direct the brutal 1991 siege of the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar. In the latest tribute, a Belgrade firm last week is reported to have honored him with the gift of an expensive German sports car.

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To the International War Crimes Tribunal, however, Colonel Slivancanin should be tried as a mass murderer. The tribunal last month indicted him and two other senior officers for allegedly executing more than 200 Croat prisoners seized from Vukovar Hospital as the city fell. Slivancanin is accused of stalling human rights officials at the hospital's entrance while the Croats were led out the back door to a nearby pig farm and shot.

But whether these or any other combatants allegedly involved in Europe's worst atrocities since the Holocaust will ever stand trial remains uncertain, despite the agreement to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina reached on Nov. 21 in Dayton, Ohio.

Many human rights observers are skeptical. They wonder if the sides will surrender suspects. None have yet done so. And they worry that the US and its European allies will renege on commitments to punish any side that fails to meet its Dayton undertaking to cooperate with the tribunal. Such action could jeopardize the peace plan and trigger reprisals against the 60,000 NATO troops, including 20,000 Americans, being deployed to enforce it.

But senior Clinton administration officials are vowing that the US will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the tribunal gets the cooperation it needs. That includes the reimposition of UN economic sanctions that were clamped until last week on Serbia, the sponsor of the Serb rebellions in Bosnia and Croatia.

"In the event there is noncompliance [with the tribunal], then economic and reconstruction assistance, access to the UN, and access to international financial institutions will be denied," said US Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck in an interview. "The signal is very, very clear: Cooperate or face the consequences."

In US eyes, cooperation means arresting and extraditing suspects, granting tribunal requests for potential evidence, and providing war-crimes investigators with unhindered access to suspected mass graves and other sites.

"This is a war-crimes tribunal that is not going to go away," Mr. Shattuck warns. "You cannot have peace without justice."

There had been concerns that to secure the Dayton accord, the United States and its allies would offer amnesty to leading war-crime suspects. Instead, US Ambassador to the UN Madelaine Albright says the US ensured that the tribunal was strengthened by seeing to it that cooperation commitments were made part of both the peace agreement and a new Bosnian constitution. It also won a ban on war-crimes suspects running for office. "We managed to make the war-crimes tribunal integral to the peace and justice the agreement brings," Mrs. Albright said in an interview.

FOLLOWING complaints from the war-crimes tribunal last month, US officials say they have stepped up the flow to the panel of classified material that could be used as war-crimes evidence. The chief UN prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, said in a visit to Washington that he was unhappy with the amount of material he was being given.

"We have made a major push ... to make sure we can give as much as possible to the tribunal," says Albright, a leading force behind the panel's creation.

Atrocities have been blamed on all sides in the Croatian and Bosnian wars. But there is wide assent that the vast majority was committed by Serbs as they expelled non-Serbs from areas they sought to unite in a "Greater Serbia." Most of the more than 50 people indicted are Serbs. They include Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his army chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic. #Tribunal officials are now waiting to see if a half-dozen indicted Bosnian Croats are turned over. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman promoted one of the alleged war criminals after he was indicted. Serious doubts also persist over Serb cooperation.

Serbs reject the tribunal's legitimacy. That is one reason for skepticism that President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia will turn over top war-crimes suspects, such as Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic. Another is that if handed over, they might then implicate Mr. Milosevic, who is widely seen as the main instigator of former Yugoslavia's breakup and ethnic mayhem. Their arrests could also provoke a popular backlash against Milosevic.

But US officials say they are confident Milosevic will cooperate. By accepting the Dayton pact, they say, he recognized the tribunal's authority. He was also told the US is serious about gaining his compliance. "He left [Dayton] with a clear sense of what our expectations are," says one official who requested anonymity.

Shattuck says Milosevic pledged in Dayton to meet tribunal officials. Milosevic, he adds, also promised access to what are believed to be mass graves of Muslim men killed by the Bosnian Serbs after the fall in July of the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica.

Under the peace accord, it will be up to a civilian head of the NATO peacekeeping operation to certify cooperation with the tribunal. Should such cooperation not be forthcoming, US officials say they will pursue a range of steps to force Milosevic's compliance, beginning with a denial of hundreds of millions of dollars of reconstruction and economic aid that he and the Bosnian Serbs desperately need.

A final step would be the reimposition of the UN economic sanctions, the devastating impact of which is credited with forcing Milosevic to accept the Dayton peace deal.

Sanctions are "sort of the atomic weapon of punishments for noncompliance," says Shattuck. "I expect others, such as denial of reconstruction aid, to be used first."