Bosnia’s Serbs sent 108 U.N. peacekeepers across a bridge to Serbia and freedom early today, and there were indications that more of the 148 remaining hostages could be released soon.
Two buses carrying the 108 peacekeepers crossed the Drina River into this border town shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday. The freed hostages came from Britain, France, Ukraine and Spain, said Jovica Stanisic, the Serbian president’s security chief.
The first busload of 58 peacekeepers had been reported on the Bosnian Serb side of the Drina River border in the town of Zvornic hours earlier. But the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA said those men had to wait for more peacekeepers to join the convoy.
The releases came after days of U.N. pressure, international negotiations and intervention by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whose office issued a statement minutes after Wednesday’s release saying all U.N. hostages should be free “in the next few days.”
Bosnian Serb leaders “have responded positively … to the appeal of President Milosevic,” said Stanisic, who spent two days negotiating for the release of the hostages.
The freed peacekeepers were to be taken to the Serbian town of Novi Sad, about 30 miles north of the Serbian and Yugoslav capital Belgrade, Stanisic said. He refused to allow reporters to talk to the released soldiers.
The release was likely to help ease tensions between the Bosnian Serbs and the United Nations, whose NATO members have been mustering military might in response to the hostage-taking.
“We are convinced that in the leadership of Bosnian Serbs, there is a positive atmosphere concerning the international community and that they are ready to act in the direction of peace,” Stanisic said.
Milosevic has been considered key in persuading intransigent Serb leaders in Bosnia to release peacekeepers, seized after NATO warplanes bombed Serbs in May.