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October 3, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 158
Interview With General Bo Pelnas

On The Drina River

by Dejan Anastasijevic

On purpose or by accident, Pelnas' headquarters is on the fifth floor of Belgrade's Intercontinental hotel, the very place where Radovan Karadzic and his family frequently stayed.

VREME: The local press uses several names for your mission: humanitarian workers, observers, controllers... When you arrived in Belgrade you said, ``just call us a team.'' What is the official name of that team?

PELNAS: The official title is ``Mission of the International Conference on Former Yugoslavia.'' The quote you just used was my reply to your colleagues' persistent questions.

VREME: The date for the suspension of the sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro depends upon your first report and the duration of that suspension depends upon your later reports. As an observer you have a lot of experience in this region, but now you know your reports have specific consequences...

PELNAS: That's not quite true. While I was military observer chief, my reports directly and drastically changed the situaion on the ground on several occassions.

VREME: Can you give me an example?

PELNAS: No, I can't talk about that.

VREME: Still, your team's job is a politically sensitive question. Does that make your work more difficult?

PELNAS: Not as much as I expected. That type of pressure can have some good points: it helps you to do the job right.

VREME: The UN documents mention control of the Croatia-Bosnia border.

PELNAS: Our mission only covers the Bosnia-Federal Republic of Yugoslavia border.

VREME: Official Yugoslav circles stated today (Pelnas was interviewed on Wednesday) that your report to Boutros-Boutros Ghali is almost ready and that it will reach New York in a day or two.

PELNAS: I hope it will happen soon, but I can't give you an exact date.

VREME: Are you still satisfied with the cooperation of the Yugoslav authorities.

PELNAS: In principle, yes. But I am a fairly temperamental and impatient man and I lose my temper easily. Sometimes that's enough to get things moving. Still, I can say we are cooperating well.

VREME: Do your people have the right to search vehicles and people crossing the border between Bosnia and Yugoslavia.

PELNAS: Not physically. The Yugoslav police do that. If something seems suspicious, we ask the local police to check it. But we don't do it ourselves.

VREME: Bosnian army commander General Rasim Delic recently said that your mission served no purpose because it would only ``register the number of people and vehicles crossing the border.''

PELNAS: Knowing General Delic's position, it's easy to see why he would like our mission to be different. I am convinced that it would be very hard to please Rasim Delic, but it's not our job to satisfy him. Our job is to satisfy the rest of the world.

VREME: On the other hand, Bosnian Serb Parliament Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik recently said that the Bosnian Serbs were satisfied with their cooperation with you while you were a military observer. How did that sound considering Krajisnik's reputation as a hawk?

PELNAS: I spent some time with Krajisnik while I headed the cease-fire negotiations. That's a two-faced coin: there are official talks and that's the political side, and there's the personal side which has nothing to do with politics. Certain preferences can emerge on the personal side and you might like someone more or less. I can say that I had good cooperation with him on the personal side.

VREME: Many people say that the war in former Yugoslavia differs greatly from other wars. What do you, as a general who has seen the wars in Cyprus and Afghanistan, think of that?

PELNAS: I can't say I saw war in Cyprus, I was there in the early 1980s and it was as quiet as a church. There was little fighting in Afghanistan except for a few incidents.

VREME: It's different here...?

PELNAS: I've been almost everywhere: Knin, Sarajevo, Tuzla... I think it was worst in Mostar. When I arrived in former Yugoslavia I was very surprised and it took me some time to grasp the situation because thise war is being waged contrary to the rules of military doctrine. One reason could be the history of the region, with its traditions of behavior in war. The second reason probably has to do with the way the Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA) was trained and the way it functioned. Many things are being done here not out of political or military reasons but purely out of economic interest. Also, there's a ruthlessness towards people who are endangered, hungry and unarmed. On the other hand, after seeing the Yugoslav war, you are surprised by the contradictions between the truly warm and generous people and the unscrupulousness of military and political leaders. All that can affect a man: General Satish Nambiar, the first UNPROFOR commander, left as an exhausted man.

VREME: The suspension of the sanctions will last 100 days and will be reviewed then. Do you think you will remain in the job after those 100 days?

PELNAS: That doesn't depend on me. I hope this war won't last much longer. Still, I think no one can predict what's going to happen in the end. It's hard. A foreigner can't competely understand it. To me, as a Swede, history is something that should be viewed as a straight line, a thing with a beginning and an end. Here it's more similar to Einstein's theory of curved space.

VREME: With a black hole at the end?

PELNAS: I hope not. It seems things have started moving. It's like pushing a railway car: you push and push and the car moves so slowly that it seems to be standing still, but then it gets easier and moves faster. Even when you think the situation is hopeless you should persist. In my opinion, most people here want peace and that's where my optimism lies.

VREME: You told a recent press conference that you are a poet. Have you published your poetry?

PELNAS: No. That was just a joke. I do write poems, but I don't write to publish. Still, I'm vain enough to allow you to publish them. Take care however if they're not translated right (Untiteled Poem by Mr. Pelnas is translated from Sweedish into Serbo-Croatian and published in VREME---ed. note).

VREME: You probably know that Radovan Karadzic writes poetry. Did you know that Vladislav Jovanovic, federal Foreign Minister, also writes poems?

PELNAS: No. That seems to be much more frequent here than I thought.


Here I am with my little one! Just out of the barber shop one March day gulls shrieking over the chimneys Here I am with my little one! Our hair smells of oil chewing gum in our mouths Here I am with my little one! Whistling loudly and in that moment the entire town is ours

(Translated from the Swedish by Duska Anastasijevic)

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