SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — A 45-day delay in turning over police duties in five Sarajevo suburbs marred the otherwise smooth-sailing Dayton peace process this weekend in Bosnia.
These suburbs are the most important of the four "areas of transfer" whose jurisdictions changed at midnight Saturday from Bosnian Serb control to Muslim and Croat Bosnian Federation control.
The country's two rival factions - Serbs and the Muslim and Croats - were to withdraw military forces and weapons from about 1,500 square miles of territory that they were to turn over to the other side midnight Saturday.
But the European Union's representative, Carl Bildt, and the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) have decided to leave the Serb police in the suburbs until the next major deadline, March 20.
The decision to leave the Serb police in place, according to Mr. Bildt's deputy, was intended as a "confidence-building measure," intended to encourage Serbs to remain in their communities.
With the predominantly Serb suburbs officially transferred back to the Bosnian government, Sarajevo is to be one city again. But it is not clear how many Serbs will feel comfortable staying in their communities. About 10,000 to 12,000 Serbs - 15 percent to 25 percent of the total - have already fled the suburbs to avoid becoming targets for retribution by avenging Muslims.
The city's Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity - the Checkpoint Charlie of this generation's Berlin - has just begun to live up to its name.
During the war, the tall buildings on either side, now largely bombed out, were favored locations for snipers. Now the bridge, which crosses the Miljacka River into the Serb suburb of Grbavica, has just opened to civilian traffic. But Serb men are still afraid to cross, so their wives and sisters cross without them.
But the Bosnian government has strongly protested the IFOR decision. The Serb police have been widely accused of intimidating and terrorizing Muslims and other minorities in their communities, and of rampant looting.
Two British soldiers were slightly wounded by a sniper in the Serb-held suburb of Ilidza on Saturday; a US vehicle was hit by five rounds of gunfire there in a separate incident.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic officially requested Saturday night that Bildt ask IFOR to eject the Serb police.
But Bildt and IFOR commander Adm. Leighton Smith issued a joint statement yesterday reiterating their intention to allow the local Serb police to remain in the areas of transfer "provided they do not act inconsistently with the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Federation."
The police in the areas of transfer are supposed to operate under the constitution of the "entity" to which they are being transferred, and to prepare for a transition to new police and military forces on March 19 - subject to IFOR approval.
But the question of how Serb police, widely accused of conducting campaigns of terror against Muslims and other minorities in their jurisdictions, operate points to a broader question: How expansively will NATO choose to define its mandate?
In the war in Bosnia, crime often has been used as an act of war. And although the UN police monitors and the International Police Task Force (IPTF) work with warring parties on a "consent" basis, Article Three of Annex One of the Dayton accord does give NATO, or IFOR, the right to police powers. IFOR, however, insists that maintaining civil order is not its mandate.
The IPTF, under the UN, is still seriously understaffed, with only 214 police in Bosnia out of 1,700 promised by UN member countries. And about 100 monitors are stationed in the Serb suburbs where 400 have been called for.
UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko, however, praised the "phenomenal access" that Serb police have given the IPTF. Still, UN civilian police monitors have not been patrolling the Serb suburbs at night because the areas are too dangerous.
Aside from the Sarajevo suburbs, the other areas of transfer are around Kljuc and Jajce in southwestern Bosnia, which will come under Bosnian Serb control; areas north and northeast of Mostar that will transfer to the Muslim-Croat Federation; and the Gorazde corridor, which will also transfer to the Federation. British Gen. Mike Willcocks, chief of staff of the Ace Rapid Reaction Corps, told reporters over the weekend that the clearing-out of troops has been going smoothly.