Facing the threat of economic sanctions, Bosnian government and Serb officials tried to work out differences Sunday over the release of their final war prisoners.
The government released 109 Serbs just before a midnight Saturday deadline. But the release fell short of freeing all POWs, as required.
World powers meeting in Moscow on Saturday warned that unless the wartime enemies comply, the Serbs and the Muslim-Croat government would face sanctions instead of the economic aid they so badly need to rebuild Bosnia.
On Sunday, Amor Masovic, the head of the Bosnian government POW commission, and his Bosnian Serb counterpart, Dragan Bulajic, met on a former front line south of Sarajevo and affirmed their commitment to release all prisoners in the next eight days.
“The sanctions they are threatening really will be imposed,” Bulajic said. “After this war, after peace came, we all need this economic injection.”
But there are differences to be resolved before more prisoners are released, mainly a stalemate over whether to release prisoners suspected of war crimes. There also are conflicting reports over how many POWs are being held.
According to the Red Cross, which is monitoring the prisoner releases, a total 152 Serb, Muslim and Croat prisoners should have been freed Saturday. It says warring parties are holding 62 other prisoners for possible war crimes investigations.
The Bosnian government says it thought it had fully complied by releasing the 109 prisoners from jail in the northern city of Tuzla on Saturday. Masovic said 26 remaining prisoners are under investigation for possible war crimes or are serving sentences for crimes against humanity.
Bulajic said Bosnian Serbs still hold 20 Bosnian Croats and eight Bosnian army soldiers, three of them being investigated for possible war crimes. He said Bosnian Serbs are ready to release all prisoners, but can’t because the government doesn’t want to release the 26 Serbs.
In addition, sources close to the Bosnian Serb leadership said it wanted 75 more Serbs freed in Bosnia and 40 more freed in Croatia.
“Practically, within the next eight days, there shouldn’t be anyone found in prison,” Bulajic said. “All have to be released.”
Leaders in Moscow did not specify how many POWs each Bosnian faction must free to avoid economic sanctions, but they are likely to follow Red Cross figures.
In a statement issued Sunday in Sarajevo, the commander of NATO ground forces in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, said he welcomed the release “but cannot consider it to be full compliance until all prisoners are released.”
Reporters were kept at a distance from the men released Saturday night. The prisoners were bused 30 miles from the jail to a checkpoint manned by Swedish soldiers near Gracanica.