On a holiday mission to thank American troops and encourage Bosnia’s fragile peace, President Clinton lectured Bosnia’s three presidents Monday to set aside differences and rebuild their government.
“You owe it to your country,” he said on a trip marked by high emotion and tight security.
Clinton’s dual message was one of gratitude to U.S. peacekeepers - “I’d like to say a simple ‘thank you’ and ‘God bless you”’ - and of firmness to the leaders charged with creating a peaceful nation.
On the grueling 36-hour trip to the war-scarred nation, Clinton told sniping leaders in a private meeting in Sarajevo that U.S. peacekeeping help is not infinite and the world “expects that you do your part.”
To the Bosnian people, he said, “The future is up to you - not to the Americans, not to the Europeans, not to anyone else.”
Everywhere along Clinton’s route in Sarajevo, raw reminders of the scars of war were evident. Cheering children lined up in front of bombed but still occupied apartments to greet him as his motorcade cut through recovering “sniper alleys.” Extra police patrols guarded street corners beside NATO tanks, but the president was determined to showcase a Bosnia at peace.
Accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, the president strolled sidewalks one block from the Markla open-air market, scene of some of the bloodiest shelling, and pressed into crowds for hugs and kisses from men and women trembling with emotion.
Clinton pledged that Americans would do “our-dead-level best” to enforce the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended 3-1/2 years of ethnic warfare in the former Yugoslavia.
Afterward, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic - who replaced Radovan Karadzic, an accused war criminal - said she had asked Clinton for patience. “Slowly, one can expect results, but certain things cannot be implemented quickly.”
Karadzic aide Momcilo Krajisnik, who represents the Serbs in the Bosnia Federation, said Serbs are “willing to work toward full implementation of the peace accord.” But he also called for Bosnian Serb independence - something not foreseen in the Dayton accords, which call for a unified Bosnia.
Later in Tuzla, Clinton told U.S. troops their efforts are too vital to end now.
“Without you, there still would be mortars and cannons firing,” Clinton told some of the 2,000 Americans stationed here at Eagle Base.
He and his family shared just a bite of their pre-Christmas meal with troops before descending fog hurried their departure for home.