Directly addressing the concerns of Bosnian Serbs for the first time, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Wednesday that the Bosnian peace agreement concluded last month should be carried out “with sensitivity,” but he ruled out any change or addition to the accord.
The roughly 80,000 Serbs living in Serbian-held districts of Sarajevo have objected vehemently to the agreement’s stipulation that all of the city be handed over to the Muslim-led government, and have demanded that the treaty be changed.
They have received outspoken support from one French general serving with U.N. forces in Bosnia, who was promptly relieved of his post, and more guarded expressions of sympathy from the French government.
Christopher was attending a meeting between NATO foreign ministers and their colleagues from countries that have joined the Partnership for Peace, a cooperative accord between the alliance and states from the former Soviet bloc that are either interested in joining NATO or working closely with it.
Elaborating on Christopher’s remarks, Nicholas Burns, the State Department spokesman, said, “We need to be sensitive to the needs of the Bosnian Serb population, especially in the southern suburbs of Sarajevo.”
But Burns added that there would be no annexes to the Dayton accords or “complementary written agreements” addressing the Serbs’ situation. The French government appeared to suggest a readiness to envisage such additions last month.
The separatist Serbs led by Radovan Karadzic hold the southern neighborhood of Grbavica, and several other less central districts to the west and northwest, including Ilidza and Vogosca. These places have been the scene of fierce fighting during 42 months of war and the people there are among the most trenchantly committed to the Bosnian Serb cause.
Some 40,000 more Serbs live in parts of the city controlled by the government. Many have faced occasional harassment or discrimination during the war, but their commitment to a multi-ethnic city, and their rejection of Karadzic’s methods and ideas, has remained firm.
The status of Sarajevo, given in its entirety to the Bosnian government by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic during the Dayton talks, has emerged as the most immediately explosive issue in the planned carrying out of the peace accords.
Milosevic, whose relations with Karadzic are bad, always viewed Sarajevo with some wariness as a potential power base for the Bosnian Serb leader. He is known to be much happier with the idea that the capital of the Serb Republic in Bosnia be in Banja Luka, where there is scant loyalty to Karadzic and where the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav army is more influential.
Discussion of Bosnia, rather than any eventual enlargement of NATO, took up much of the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.