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February 21, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 126
Bosnian Thunder

The Week Of Withdrawal

by Milos Vasic

The deadline of the ultimatum made by the United Nations and NATO runs out on February 21 at 1 a.m., when most of those who read VREME will have read this article. General Michael Rose has said that Monday will be an ordinary day. The dependents of Western diplomats accredited in Belgrade will worry about their fathers and mothers. Confidential sources claim that many of them are in Budapest and hope to return soon. The inhabitants of Sarajevo will rush to the markets, to get humanitarian aid, to fetch water and wood, counting on the persuasiveness of the West's threat. The others, however, will not sleep so peacefully: UNPROFOR members will worry over what could happen if someone fires a shell. Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic and his officers will be concerned, because by the time they prove that they are not responsible, a lot could happen. Their problem lies in the fact that the critical mass of exasperation felt by NATO, America and the United Nations has been reached, and the issue no longer concerns NATO's credibility, but the very reason of its existence, and the dignity of the world's greatest force. The Devil has come for dues, and it is time to stop playing games.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic left the first line of defence immediately. He first threatened to withdraw from the Geneva negotiations unless a joint commission was set up to look into the massacre at Markale market. The commission was set up and submitted a report which said that the cause of the tragedy was a 120 mm mortar shell whose tail stabilizer was found, and which exploded on hitting the ground; it was fired from the zone dividing the front, so that it is impossible to determine who fired it. Karadzic abandoned this subject immediately, adding, just in case, that he had learned from ``Israeli experts'' that Hezbollah or the Afghans were responsible for the massacre and that he had ``confidential data'' that Bosnians wearing Serbian uniforms would attack UNPROFOR. After setting up this propaganda alibi, the Serb Republic in Bosnia-Hezegovina turned to a more serious argument: the warning made by Bosnian Serb army general Manojlo Milovanovic, at the time commander of the Drina corps, and now Bosnian Serb Army Chief of General Staff. Milovanovic said that if Western planes fired a single shot at Serbs in Bosnia, then UN staff in the field would be regarded as members of an aggressor army. Karadzic and General Milan Gvero have now issued new warnings: Karadzic said that in the event of hostilities he wasn't able to guarantee the safety of ``foreigners'' (not specifying if he was thinking of troops, civilians, journalists or the whole lot); not because he wished them ill, but because the ``anger of the people'' cannot be controlled. General Gvero was more concrete and threatened to take hostages.

There are more than 13,000 such ``hostages'' scattered all over the Serbian lands, making them very vulnerable. The first signs of nervousness were visible in Banja Luka over the withdrawal of UNHCR staff. General Gvero was clear: when commenting UNHCR spokeswoman Lyndall Sachs' statement that UNHCR staff were banned from leaving Banja Luka, Gvero said: ``We are now checking information that the UNHCR staff have been ordered to depart from our territory. If this is true, we will prevent their departure.'' The Bosnian Serb army general staff also said that they had given no cause for ``the UNHCR's withdrawal from Serbian territory, and that they would be prevented from doing so, for this reason.'' General Milovanovic said on Thursday that foreigners accessible to his troops would be taken as hostages.

Asked if they were prepared to risk attacks against UNPROFOR and the taking of hostages in the Serb Republic in BH (and perhaps the Republic of Serb Krajina), NATO member country diplomats shrugged and said that it was too late to go back, and that the Serbs were free to tryit would result in one big war. Public threats died down in the middle of the week, and the situation remains as it is. Briefly, the best indication of an eventual military intervention will be attempts to bring UN military and civilian staff to points more easily defended, from where they would be evacuated by helicopters. Karadzic's side is preparing for such a possibility.

It has turned out that both sides have a card up their sleeve: the first can bomb from the sky, the second can capture troops on the ground. Such a situation makes it necessary to stop and think a little. Karadzic first agreed to withdraw his artillery and mortars at the UN's demand; then general Ratko Mladic said that there would be no withdrawing because, ``we will not leave the people who have lived here for centuries without protection and at the mercy of fanatic Muslim units.'' General Mladic made the withdrawal conditional to the abandoning of the ``joint declaration (signed by Muslims and Croats)'' which, he said, declared war on Serbs. He then said that he ``offered peace to the enemy and that he would try to stop all actions against Sarajevo.'' In this way face and other parts of the anatomy have been saved.

This launched a period of love, mutual understanding and good will between the New World Order and the Celestial Nation. While statesmen threatened to bomb any Bosnian Serb mortars that were not withdrawn, UN generals led by Sir Michael Rose were occupied with practical matters in the field. Following the logic that no one was prepared to risk the beginning of a war with no foreseeable end, the troops in the field did their best to avoid the worst. After NATO and UN demands for ``control'' over Mladic's artillery, the term ``control'' became the object of negotiations.

It has undergone linguistic changes since last week: at first (it stood for ultimatum in NATO's vocabulary of February 9) and referred to a withdrawal of at least 20 kilometers from the center of Sarajevo. It then turned out that the artillery could be controlled on the spot by UNPROFOR staff. In the end it was decided that the weapons could remain where they were, on condition that they weren't pointing towards the city, and that UNPROFOR guards weren't necessary, because it would be determined by electronic means if there had been any firing, and where it had come from. This is all technically possible, tactically the simplest option and politically acceptable. The goal is to stop the artillery firing on Sarajevo. From the technical and tactical points, there are no problems. In the late seventies, small portable radars were developed, capable of registering and remembering the route and speed of a projectile with great precision. The British army has been using them for years in Northern Ireland with a lot of success. When dealing with artillery projectiles, the radars are foolproof. It would be pertinent to ask why such radars had not been used earlier, since many political dilemmas could have been avoided. UN sources mentioned shyly that the Ukrainian contingent had had two such radars in the summer of 1992, but that ``all warring sides destroyed them'' (which sounds logical...). Suddenly everybody has remembered the radars. It is expected that the British and French contingents will have them soon, and when they start working, everything will be clear and above board.

When, and if, such a situation is set up on Monday, other perspectives will open up. Everybody will be responsible for his territory. The rules of the game will slowly be established, and whosoever fires on Sarajevo will have his nose rubbed in. It seems that all three warring sides agree on this. All this could have been done in May 1992, and then there were would have been several thousand dead less...

In the meantime, compliments ar being paid by the various sides. General Milanovic is happy because General Rose praised him for adhering to the agreement over the airport. UNPROFOR is happy because the Bosnian Serb army is praising them for their cooperation. Only the Belgrade war lobby does not understand what is happening over Sarajevo. The Belgrade daily ``Vecernje Novosti,'' in an unsigned text, bring up the interesting argument that ``NATO air strikes on artillery positions around Sarajevo would be an act of aggression against Bosnia, whose sovereignty was recognized by this same military alliance,'' and cite ``diplomatic sources'' in Belgrade. The ``diplomatic sources'' should know, however, that the Republic of BosniaHerzegovina received recognition two years ago and not recently. It has not been noticed that the Bosnian government opposed NATO's ultimatum. On the same day, (Thursday evening), Karadzic agreed to the Russian initiative (Russian President Boris Yeltsin's letter to Milosevic, brought by Yeltsin's special envoy Vitaly Churkin), thus discrediting Belgrade warmongers and other ``patriotic elements.''

The Russian initiative is important: in the letter Yeltsin calls for the ``blocking of NATO's plan on air strikes,'' and claims that this can be achieved with the ``total demilitarization of Sarajevo,'' i.e. with the ``withdrawal of heavy weapons.'' Moscow was satisfied on Thursday evening with Milosevic's positive answer. The Russian plan has three elements: the strengthening of a security zone (Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Zepa, Gorazde, etc), the demilitarization of Sarajevo and the lifting of the siege around this city with the removal of the artillery. Yeltsin offers to send a contingent of Russian soldiers who would guarantee that the Serb Republic in BH would not be tricked by this plan. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has also threatened to use his right to veto in the UN Security Council. Karadzic agreed.

The former British military attache in Belgrade, Colonel Edward Cowan, O.B.E., is wellknown for his analysis of the failure of the Vance Owen plan of April 1993. Cowan recently wrote a short militarypolitical analysis of the Bosnian crisis, with forecasts until late summer 1994. In conclusion he says that it could happen that the massacre at Sarajevo market turns out to be the key event which will stop the spreading of the war in the Balkans, saves NATO and the future of the UN..., and serves as a lesson to European governments who have, through their policy, risked the safety of Europe. Colonel Cowan draws attention to some circumstances which the latest developments around Sarajevo have confirmed: the Serbian side lacks men, they have taken on more than they can defend (General Mladic warned of this a year ago); the Croats are losing the war in Central Bosnia for the same reason; the Bosnians are gaining in military strength. The main fear in Pale (Bosnian Serb political center) is of a Bosnian infantry offensive from Sarajevo in the event of NATO air strikes. The figure of 50,000 Bosnian army troops is being mentioned (but that is an exaggeration). Karadzic's main advantageartillery will be neutralized temporarily, either with NATO's ultimatum or Yeltsin's plan (the same thing, only differently formulated).

And so it has come about that the doors for a political solution are open. Perhaps it is too early for optimism, but UNPROFOR officers are already talking of applying the Sarajevo solution to other ``security zones'' in Bosnia (Tuzla, Mostar, etc).

What gives a little hope, after all these years, is the hope that the worst won't happen. It must also be hoped that a sobering up will also take place slowly, and that the dim witted obsession with another's territory will be abandoned. When things got too hot, it proved that what had been grabbed so far, could not be defended. The Americans are talking of ``bigger concessions'' expected of Karadzic's side. It is all clear. The current situation is the logical outcome of the irrational evil which led to all this.

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