Bosnia's Uneasy Peace: One-Year Report Card Shows Gains, Failures

One year ago, a peace deal forged in Dayton, Ohio, halted the fighting in Bosnia. Since then, the country's once-thundering guns have remained silent, roads and bridges have been rebuilt, and an uneasy calm has returned. But much needs to be done before long-term stability can be assured.

On Dec. 4 and 5 in London, the parties involved in the original Dayton agreement will meet to make key decisions about how much the international community is willing to do to forge a foundation for peace. Included on the agenda is what kind of mandate to give a new force of 30,000 international troops.

Here is a look at the progress Bosnia has made and the challenges it faces:

Hostilities ended

Bosnia's three-year war took the lives of 60,000 to 200,000 people. The Dayton peace deal - and the 60,000 NATO and Russian troops sent to enforce it - made sure the killing stopped. The troops - 20,000 of whom were Americans - strictly enforced the military aspects of the peace agreement: withdrawal, demobilization, and disarmament of the country's three armies. These forces have reduced their sizes and put heavy weapons in places monitored by the NATO-led force called IFOR.

"If somebody were to try to launch a military offensive, we would know about it way ahead of time," says IFOR spokesman Brett Boudreau.

So far, IFOR has rebuilt 62 bridges, 330 miles of train tracks, more than 1,500 miles of roads, hundreds of schools and orphanages, 70 hospitals, and four airports - all at a cost of $330 million. IFOR troops have suffered 51 fatalities - mostly from car wrecks and land mines - but have not engaged in any battles. As long as an international military presence is in Bosnia, a return to war is unlikely.

Balancing the apple cart

Although the military aspects of the peace deal have been well-implemented, its civilian elements are tougher to enforce, due, in part, to the international character of the Bosnian project.

The many countries, agencies, and civilian and military personnel charged with keeping peace, rebuilding infrastructure, and overseeing the creation of a government have their own ideas about what should be done.

But the effort has gone smoothly, largely because decisionmakers have shied away from enforcing key provisions of the deal for fear of upsetting the careful balance between the many nations involved. The London conferees will look at the following issues and try to decide on responses.

War criminals

Of 74 people indicted by the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, 67 are still free. IFOR's political masters - the United States most of all - have decided not to risk soldiers' lives to arrest them.

But many observers feel the integrity of the peace process is threatened by the continued impunity of these alleged architects of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Some arrests are likely. One of the most prominent indictees, Gen. Ratko Mladic, quit the leadership of the Bosnian Serb army in November after a political battle with the civilian leadership. Without the army to protect him, IFOR may be more willing to arrest him.

The other major indictee is former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, who quit under international pressure.

Although the rhetoric calling for the arrest of the indictees has recently increased, unless the international community is willing to risk harm to its troops, it is unlikely to make many arrests.

Bitter divisions

Bosnia is still divided into three hostile parts: Republika Srpska, controlled by Bosnian Serbs; the self-styled "Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna," with ties to Croatia; and the Muslim-led remainder. Under Dayton, Herceg-Bosna and the Muslim area have formed the Muslim-Croat Federation, but this link is tenuous.

Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders oppose integration of their ethnically purified statelets and only cooperate because of international pressure. Despite assurances in the Dayton deal, travelers crossing ethnic lines are often subject to violence or official intimidation.

The London group must decide whether to involve the international community in trying to blur differences among the sides. This might entail abolishing the different license plates, which show the driver's home region and likely ethnicity; or reconnecting phones lines between the three ethnic areas.

The leaders of Herceg-Bosna and Republika Srpska have refused to allow the refugees they "ethnically cleansed" during the war to return home.

This violation of the Dayton deal has meant that only 220,000 of about 3 million war refugees have returned home, almost all of them to areas now controlled by their ethnic group. Meanwhile, 90,000 more people have been forced out of their homes.

Western governments have told IFOR not to enforce refugee returns, for fear of conflict. "If you need combat soldiers to escort you to your residence, its not the kind of place where you're really going to feel at home," says an IFOR spokesman.

Elections are less than free

Most agree that the Sept. 14 parliamentary and presidential elections occurred in an undemocratic climate and had dubious results. The vote also empowered nationalist parties. After much wrangling, however, Serbs, Muslims, and Croats agreed last month to the structure of a multiethnic government. The London conferees must decide how important fair elections are, because municipal elections are scheduled for spring.

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