[Welcome Bosnia Peace...] ...but Punish War Crimes

PEACE in Bosnia is ringed by many thorny issues, but few are more prickly than how to deal with the Balkans' indicted war criminals.

In the interest of avoiding more war and killing, should measures designed to allow the tribunal access to evidence, or the possibility of actual arrests, give way when key parties object?

The accord signed this week bars those indicted for war crimes from holding public office and commits the parties to cooperate with the international war-crimes tribunal. But the governments are not required to arrest and hand over the accused, who include Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic.

In fact, an agreement that tries to tiptoe around such issues would leave an open door for future killing. The thirst for revenge constantly threatens peace, and it will only be heightened if the avenue of redress provided by the war-crimes tribunal is narrowed or closed. Any peace lacking a credible process for investigating atrocities and, when possible, prosecuting the perpetrators, will totter from the start, no matter how many peacekeepers are sent in.

It may not be possible to try leading figures like Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic in person. These two have now been re-indicted, this time for their part in last summer's slaughter of civilians near the former UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica.

Such men could end up confined to their Bosnian Serb portion of a future ''reunited'' Bosnia-Herzegovina, or in Serbia proper. A step outside those confines would subject them to arrest. But the country, or entity, giving them haven will also be subject to sanctions for sheltering international criminals.

The Serbs aren't alone in facing this dilemma. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman recently showed his lack of regard for the tribunal's work by promoting a senior Army officer under indictment for war crimes.

The pressure to make indictments stick has to come primarily from outside. The United States has publicly sounded tough. But investigators suspect the US is withholding intelligence that could bolster the tribunal's case against those accused of abetting the Srebrenica atrocities. Washington should move quickly to dispel that cloud.

It has to be remembered that the tribunal's work stretches far beyond the Balkans. The world community, at large, must demonstrate its intolerance for genocide. Bosnia, right now, is a critical test case, but the principles applied there should carry into every region and continent. Ethnic tensions provide the tinder for mass murder in the former Soviet Union, in the Indian subcontinent, and in many parts of Africa, to name a few places. The tribunal's work is indispensable. It may save many lives.

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