The Balkans' Long Haul

The warlike emotions that still grip Bosnia and other parts of former Yugoslavia will subside as three fundamental conditions are met: Those responsible for atrocities have to be brought to justice. Peoples turned against each other by "ethnic cleansing" have to be reconciled. The international community needs to make a long-term commitment to remain in Bosnia until that country's rebuilding is much further along than it's likely to be by next June.

Huge orders all. But there has been movement - if not always progress - on all three of these fronts recently.

Croatia's cooperation in the surrender of 10 Bosnian-Croat war crimes suspects is encouraging. Their presence in the dock should give the work of the tribunal at The Hague fresh momentum. It should also build pressure for similar cooperation from the Bosnian Serbs.

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The Croats' move shows that international economic and diplomatic pressure, from the US and others, can bring results.

The municipal elections just held in Bosnia might ideally have been an exercise in reconciliation. In practice, they pose a dilemma. In a number of towns, councils split between diametrically opposed nationalist parties. Some new council members don't even live in their constituencies at present, but were elected by refugees who were bused in to vote. The enforcers of the Dayton peace accords face hard decisions on how to make such councils work.

The outlook for reconciliation isn't brightened, either, by voting in neighboring Serbia, where the ultranationalist Radical Party is gaining strength. On a more upbeat note, a Western-oriented, moderate candidate is doing well in the race for the presidency of Montenegro, Serbia's only partner in a rump Yugoslavia.

The third element, international commitment, hinges on Washington. And the Clinton administration has dropped plenty of hints that it anticipates involvement in Bosnia beyond next June's scheduled pullout of the 8,000 Americans now part of the NATO Stabilization Force. Some, notably worried senators and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, argue that no amount of international involvement can reunite Bosnia and overcome its ingrained hatreds. But that view ignores Bosnians' past peaceful intermingling and the likelihood that partition would stimulate war rather than avert it.

It makes sense to sustain the current international involvement. The alternative could be even more costly intervention as war rekindles on NATO's southern flank.

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