Lord Owen Sticks With Serb President Milosevic to the End

FOR three controversial years, Lord David Owen has been the chief European Union negotiator on Bosnia. He resigned last week; his successor is Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister. A Monitor staffer talked with Lord Owen in the Netherlands last week, where he was delivering a university address. Excerpts from an informal interview follow.

As you leave your post, what peace options are there in Bosnia?

[Serbia's President Slobodan] Milosevic is the biggest pressure point; we must work with him.

On hostages, we must get Serb military leaders, particularly those who served the UN with distinction, to write to [Bosnian Serb] General Mladic and say this is not how the Serbian Army behaves. Serbs are proud of their traditions; they wear royalist hats and claim the continuity of tradition. I think you have to tell the Serb military that this is not how Serbs behave.

One option is public humiliation. I don't think they care much about humiliation. We now pay for the isolation of the Bosnian Serbs. They have become very paranoid and isolated. We need to be willing to talk with [Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and Mladic.

Most importantly, the UN must demonstrate it is impartial. Reinforcement in Bosnia must be done within the UN. That there is no enthusiasm for a multinational force in Bosnia makes it clear that no one is trying to put a military effort on top of a humanitarian effort. It is utterly important that the Serbs feel they are being dealt with fairly.

You just met Mr. Milosevic. Is his recognition of Bosnia still the starting point for working with Belgrade?

Mutual recognition. Both parties.

What would follow from that?

[Bosnia's] President Izetbegovic said he would be prepared to restart the cessation of hostilities again. You would have to get the Serbs in Pale [the Bosnian Serb capital] to agree, but I think they would.

How would Milosevic get the Pale Serbs on board?

I think at the moment he is using his influence, which is not terribly much, to get the hostages out.

In the overall Bosnian war isn't the hostage crisis a small game? What can Milosevic do to get the Pale Serbs to agree to mutual recognition?

You are probably right in the longer and medium term that this is a small game. But we do want the hostages out.

Let's say the hostages are freed. How does Milosevic convince the Pale Serbs about recognition?

Well, he doesn't have to convince them. What they need to do is come into negotiations. They would certainly need to come into a cessation of hostilities. They've in the past always been prepared to come into a cessation of hostilities.

Last July Bosnian Serbs rejected the Contact Group plan. Why would they sign anything now?

The issue from July is whether the Bosnian Serbs would accept a particular formula. That formula they have discussed since July, to get the formulation of words that would let them enter in. I agree the fact that they are hung up on the form of words doesn't betoken a great commitment. I have talked to them since, and I am convinced they are a long way from the Contact Group plan. But it was not beyond the wit of man and beast to get them to negotiate. I think they should.

Can Milosevic make them deal?

That's a fair question. He hasn't got the power to command them. He has to try and convince them. And one of the ways is to stop the sanctions on him, to show his fellow Serbs that one of the levers on him is removed. He has always thought that if he were to get the sanctions lifted that the Bosnian Serbs would see that their own isolation is greater, and they would take steps to negotiate.

How would that work?

The belief is, you know, that Milosevic would divide them and get them to negotiate. There are a substantial number of Bosnian Serbs, he thinks, and we think, in the Army and among civilians, who want to negotiate. But I agree. There's not a direct link, and it might be difficult.

The war crimes tribunal is about to prosecute the people you feel we should not isolate.

The tribunal is completely separate. I was asked by the London Conference whether or not we should establish a war crimes tribunal. [Cyrus] Vance and I went into great detail and said there should be a war crimes tribunal. But we recommended it be set up completely separate from the negotiating process. The judicial process should have its own life, and not be influenced by negotiations.

But fairly soon UN prosecutors will ask for the arrest of leaders you want to negotiate with and be impartial towards.

If so, when the arrest order is issued the world court has made a preliminary judgment. We will have to decide what to do; attitudes toward negotiating change. It may be that the issue then will be as to whether or not the arrest orders are blocked, and who blocks them.

Do you feel disappointment?

It's mixed. There may be a window of opportunity for a settlement this summer.

What can be done about Sarajevo?

It's bad there. But the situation in Sarajevo has been much worse than today.

Is it like London during the blitz?

I was in Plymouth at that time. The two cases are very different.

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