The Bosnian Serbs' Hidden Hand

Last week NATO countries took a decisive step toward fulfilling the Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia in November 1995. British and Czech troops, backed by US Apache helicopters, seized six police stations in Banja Luka, curbing the local power base of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

Indeed, the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has issued indictments against Mr. Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic for genocide and crimes against humanity. Yet their powers and actions derived in large measure from their allies, financiers, and superiors in Belgrade - under the ultimate authority and direction of President Slobodan Milosevic. International statesmen and negotiators, alternately intimidated and charmed by Mr. Milosevic, have conveniently forgotten that fact.

The acts traceable to Milosevic - planning, preparation, initiation, or waging of aggressive war - constitute crimes against the peace similar to the crimes of which leading Nazis were convicted in the Nuremberg trials. The methods Milosevic employed to whip his population into a war frenzy for a "Greater Serbia" were similar to the powerful propaganda tools used by the Third Reich. Religious and ethnic differences were exaggerated and distorted; historic injustices, real and imagined, were dredged; and people who had lived harmoniously together for generations suddenly became the inferior, dangerous "other." Despite the vow of "never again," Europe again indulged the "banality of evil."

Just a few months ago, Milosevic seemed on the ropes as Belgrade's streets filled with tens of thousands of Serb citizens protesting his annulment of opposition victories in local elections. Ostensibly yielding to domestic and international pressures, he finally allowed the winners to assume their offices after moving their powers to people he controls. Then he pulled off a clever two-presidencies maneuver: Before his 10-year term as president of Serbia expired, he had himself named the new president of the Yugoslav state of Serbia and Montenegro.

Milosevic's hand in the Bosnian Serb obstructionist game is evident despite his signature on the Dayton Accords. Recently, Biljana Plavsic, the Bosnian Serb president, incurred Karadzic's wrath by accusing him and his cronies of massive corruption. In a legally suspect maneuver opposed by the West, his forces in the Republika Srpska parliament voted her out of office, but only after a clear signal from Belgrade indicating the Serb leader's preference in the internecine struggle. When Ms. Plavsic traveled through Belgrade in the days before the vote, she was summarily arrested by Serb authorities and ejected from the country, escaping worse consequences only after a protest by the US State Department. Meanwhile, General Mladic travels freely in Serbia.

There is a general, if grudging, awe at Milosevic's Houdini-like ability to escape from one crisis after another - he is the only one of Eastern Europe's old Communist dictators to survive the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Marxism-Leninism. It is time to end the charade and place Milosevic in the dock at The Hague. Nuremberg helped the German people distinguish between perpetrators and victims of that war's horrors and began their recovery of national honor under law and democracy. The Serbian people deserve no less.

* Joseph A. Bosco practices international law in Washington and writes on foreign policy and national security issues.

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