The Nando times - Bosnian Serbs backtracking on commitments to unity

By IRENA GAJIC

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (December 3, 1999) - Bosnian Serb leaders are rolling back on terms of a U.S.-brokered accord that American officials hailed as a major step toward fulfilling the goal of a united, multiethnic country.

Last month, U.S. officials said the three members of Bosnia's collective, multiethnic presidency agreed to a declaration proposed by Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to end ethnic strife and work more closely together.

The declaration, unveiled in New York, is aimed at getting Muslims, Serbs and Croats working together - from the president's office down to a new border patrol.

On Thursday, however, the Serb member of the presidency, Zivko Radisic, told the Bosnian Serb parliament that he agreed only to work on elements of the accord, which he described as an "expression of the will" rather than a binding commitment.

"The declaration was not signed," Radisic said. "Neither I, nor the other presidents, have signed this declaration," he said, referring to his Muslim and Croat counterparts, Alija Izetbegovic and Ante Jelavic.

Holbrooke's spokeswoman, Mary Ellen Glynn, confirmed that the three presidents did not sign the New York declaration, but insisted it was a binding agreement. She accused the Serb-led Yugoslav government of pressuring Bosnian Serbs to abandon the agreement.

"It's obvious that President Radisic is being pressured by the hard-liners in Belgrade," she said. "The three presidents negotiated this agreement and then announced it in public in New York. So Ambassador Holbrooke considers this an agreement, as does the United States government."

In Sarajevo, Wolfgang Petritsch, the senior international overseer in Bosnia, also insisted the Bosnian Serbs were bound by the terms of the declaration.

"While it is true that the presidency did not sign the document, it is disingenuous to suggest that this fact in any way invalidates it," Petritsch's office said in a statement today. "The declaration was officially submitted by the presidency to the United Nations Security Council, in formal session. It was not, therefore, an agreement that required signature."

Mirza Hajric, adviser to Izetbegovic, said the Muslim leader considers the declaration as binding and "will stick to his word and expects everybody else to do so, too."

After returning from New York, Radisic was strongly criticized by Bosnian Serbs for committing himself to a multiethnic border police force foreseen by the accord. Bosnian Serbs consider a multiethnic border patrol as a threat to the sovereignty of their autonomous region in Bosnia.

The moderate Bosnian Serb prime minister, Milorad Dodik, also said his government was unwilling to implement key elements of the agreement. American officials have been courting Dodik as a counterweight to hard-liners close to the government of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

International officials who oversee implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, which ended the 3 1-2 year Bosnian war, denounced Radisic for backing down on the declaration.

"I'm sure that Richard Holbrooke considers it signed. He was the man who brokered the agreement with the three members of the presidency and they signed it," said Simon Haselock, a spokesman for Petritsch.

"We are all sick and tired of local politicians and officials who sign up to declaration after declaration and then fail actually to live up to the obligations," Haselock said. He noted that Petritsch has the authority to remove Bosnian officials who obstruct the peace process.

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