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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 45, 96-11-12

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 45, 12 November 1996




    Returning to the subject of one of the biggest indicted war criminals, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic on 9 November fired Mladic as the Republika Srpska's military commander, Nasa Borba reported on 11 November. Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, Gen. Milan Gvero, and other top military leaders were also sacked in the civilian leadership's latest move against the self-managing military, who have close links to Belgrade. The defense minister may also have to go, and the military command may be moved from Mladic's fortress at Han Pijesak to the civilian center in Pale, the independent daily added. The new chief of staff is Gen. Pero Colic, and his deputy is Gen. Dragan Josipovic. Mladic and the others refuse to accept the sackings, however, and Nasa Borba said on 12 November that they appear to enjoy wide support within the ranks. The civilians have been preparing the ground for a major reckoning with the military for weeks, and rumors have been rife since September that Mladic was about to be sacked. Plavsic had cited pressure from the international community because of Mladic's indictment as a reason for his ouster, although she thanked Mladic for his wartime services. In any event, as Plavsic herself has frequently pointed out, the Republika Srpska's constitution bans extradition. -- Patrick Moore


    Nor are atrocities only a thing of the past. A NATO spokesman said that IFOR personnel in a helicopter saw Muslim police speed away in a car from burning Serbian homes near Kljuc in northwestern Bosnia. The Canadian troops observed that the car returned to a police station in the area, which a Muslim-Croat offensive captured just over a year ago. NATO is investigating, Nasa Borba and the BBC reported on 7 November. In a related incident, the UNHCR said that the Serbs may have mined 96 Muslim homes near Prijedor on the basis of a UNHCR- supplied list of Muslims wanting to return to their homes. And in Mostar, Muslim refugees from Capljina protested to federal President Kresimir Zubak about the mining of 12 Muslim homes in the Croatian-controlled region, Dnevni avaz noted. Zubak later stated that he opposes any violence and criticized attacks on Croat properties. Then late on 9 November, eight Muslim homes were blown up in the Serb-held strategic Brcko, Onasa reported. The following Monday, over 500 Muslims in northern Bosnia marched across the inter-entity boundary toward their abandoned village of Gajevi near Koraj in an area under Serb control. A UN police spokesman said that shots were fired from the Serb side and that one Dutch police monitor and a Serb were wounded, news agencies stated. On Tuesday the Serbs shelled the place, driving the Muslims out, AFP reported. The Muslims said they had applied through UN channels to go home but had received no reply. These are but the latest cases of nationalists using force to deter refugees from exercising their right to return to their homes, which is guaranteed by the Dayton agreement. -- Patrick Moore


    Nor do Dayton's guarantees of freedom of expression appear to be worth much, either (see ). On 7 November a court in Doboj sentenced Zivko Savkovic of the independent weekly Alternativa to one-year probation for libel. He had published an article on 17 July alleging that SDS officials were involved in disrupting opposition election meetings. A second journalist from Alternativa was released. UN police spokesman Alexander Ivanko told Reuters on 8 November that the episode "shows how abysmal the situation is regarding the media and human rights of those who oppose the current [RS] regime." -- Patrick Moore


    And the peace agreement is still having trouble on other fronts, too. The three members of Bosnia's presidency on 5 November failed to agree on cabinet portfolios, AFP reported. The disagreement of the Muslim Alija Izetbegovic, the Serb Momcilo Krajisnik, and the Croat Zubak is due to the competing interests of their respective communities and reflects the essential nature of the problems confronting the Dayton system. The presidency is responsible for foreign policy -- including naming ambassadors -- and the budget, while each of the two entities is in charge of its own interior, justice, and defense ministries. Krajisnik has charged that many ambassadors seem to represent only the Muslims and particularly criticized UN envoy Muhamed Sacirbey in this respect. The prime minister's post also poses a problem: it should go to a Bosnian Serb as a representative of the second-biggest community, but it is unlikely that Serb representatives will propose a moderate whom the other communities could accept. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    The two governing parties in the Bosnian Federation met on 5 November in Sarajevo to discuss the assignment of leading posts in the federal government, Onasa reported. The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) have to decide on candidates for the post of federal president, vice president, prime minister, parliament speaker, and government ministers. The SDA wants Muslims to hold the post of president and prime minister, but Zubak suggested a principle under which the president and prime minister will not be of the same nationality. Zubak said that Muslims have been federal prime ministers for the past two terms, and the post should now go to a Croat, Onasa reported. The SDA nonetheless insists on holding onto this post, although a compromise might be found on the presidency, Oslobodjenje reported on 8 November. Meanwhile, the federal House of Representatives held its inaugural session on 6 November and adopted a bi- national flag, coat-of-arms, and seal, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. In other news, the Bosnian Federation constitutional court disagreed with a challenge from the HDZ and ruled that disputed June elections in Mostar were valid, international agencies reported. .-- Daria Sito Sucic


    Returning to republican affairs, the three-man presidency on 29 October accepted France's Serge Robert as governor of the new central bank, Oslobodjenje reported on 31 October. Under the Dayton peace accord, the central bank governor is chosen by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and approved by the collective presidency. In addition, three other senior bank officials were appointed: Kasim Omicevic and Jure Pelivan from the Federation and Manojlo Coric from the Republika Srpska. All appointed members of the governing board will serve a six-year term. The presidency also appointed two working groups to deal with foreign relations, one for personnel and the other for policy. The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt said it was "too early" to appoint the council of ministers. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Still in Sarajevo, on 2 November long lines of mourners headed towards the cemetery for Muslim heroes in the capital's old town. Musan Topalovic, better known by his nom de guerre "Caco," was being laid to rest, his body moved to the hilltop place of honor from the unmarked grave it had occupied for three years . And if few volunteered unqualified admiration for the man who had spent half his life in a shadowy world of crime, very many came to offer respectful salutes.

    The life and death of Caco were the raw material of folklore, certain to be shaped into legend and song by generations yet to come. Until 1990 Caco was just another underworld figure, but that year he began systematically to cultivate ties to politicians and influential police members. In 1991, when war threatened, he was among the first to organize the clandestine Muslim paramilitary Patriotic League and Green Berets. And after the first weeks of actual war in and around Sarajevo, in the spring of 1992, he became commander of the 10th Mountain Brigade, which declared itself loyal only to him.

    Virtually all residents who lived through Sarajevo's ordeal acknowledge that had it not been for Caco and his courageous volunteers defending the city, there well could be no city left for Muslims today. But among those so quick to praise Caco's valor are many who will also admit how scared they were of the man and his "Tigers." Caco executed absolute power over certain neighborhoods. His men would appear on doorsteps to pressgang recruits to fight. He ran a black market operation and was rumored to run contraband even across the front lines. He controlled his own prison, and it was he who decided who was allowed to move into abandoned flats and houses. He forced Sarajevo's Serbs and Croats, as well as his Muslim opponents, to dig front- line trenches. He was involved in large-scale arms smuggling, and even today nobody knows the exact numbers of Bosnian Serb civilians and captured soldiers who were executed by his unit. Mladen Pandurevic, the vice chairman of the Serbian Civic Council, confirms over 400 documented cases, while there are estimates running to three times this number. "But you will hardly find large mass graves around Sarajevo," said one former Tiger on the condition of anonymity. "That is because we normally burned them." He added: "I have no doubt that Caco would be on The Hague's list of the most wanted war criminals had he survived."

    During the siege, Caco became a national resistance hero. He developed good relations with some of the highest SDA officials, including Izetbegovic's son, Bakir, as well as with top police officials. Yet he was also becoming a growing burden. He refused to cooperate with the slowly developing government army and he brokered his own cease-fires just to break them again. He intimidated and even kidnapped citizens -- including the relatives of the highest state and military officials -- to have them join in the defense of the city.

    On 26 October 1993, special police and army units attacked his headquarters. Caco took nine policemen as hostages and, after failed negotiations, tortured and killed them. The son of today's Interior Minister Avdo Hebib was among his victims. According to the official version, Caco himself was killed while attempting to escape from the police. But it is widely believed that he was captured by special police forces and beaten to death or else shot in a police car. His body was secretly buried at night.

    Earlier this year, the Union of Veterans demanded information from Izetbegovic's government about the location of Caco's burial place. The site was revealed and reburial permitted. Ostensibly, the government establishment ignored the ceremony, though witnesses claim to have seen Izetbegovic's son and the recently sacked deputy defense minister, Hasan Cengic, among the mourners from the Veterans' Union. Estimates of those taking part in the funeral procession ranged from 5,000 to 20,000. The pile of flowers on the grave has grown daily.

    With the exception of BiH TV, media coverage was spotty and hesitant. So far, only the independent weekly Dani covered the issue fully. Its editor-in- chief Senad Pecanin said the decision to permit the burial was intended to distract attention from unfulfilled economic and social promises. There were others who agreed with the editor's view that the ceremony was a popular demonstration of Muslim nationalism. But Mesud, one of Caco's Tigers had a more cynical assessment. "This ceremony was attended by more [people than was] Tito's burial." -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo


    Moving northward to "the sunny side of the Alps," Premier Janez Drnovsek's Liberal Democratic Party (LDS) led in the 10 November general elections with 27.05% of the popular vote and 25 seats. His former coalition partners, the Christian Democratic Party (SKD) and the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), dropped on both counts. Marjan Podobnik's rightist and second-place Slovenian People's Party (SLS) won 19 seats, however, and Janez Jansa's ultraconservative Social Democrats (SDSS) took 16. Podobnik wants to slow down Slovenia's integration into the EU and NATO. On 11 November he said that a coalition of rightist parties could control 46 of the 90 legislative seats, effectively keeping the LDS out of power and making him prime minister, Reuters reported. Delo, however, hinted Drnovsek may try to avert this threat by co-opting the SLS into what would be an inherently unstable coalition with his own party and the SKD. -- Stan Markotich


    Meanwhile in Croatia, Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Zagorec and Bell Helicopter officials signed a $15-million deal to purchase ten helicopters for the Croatian military, Hina reported on 31 October. Defense Minister Gojko Susak said Croatia intends to fully introduce a Western military structure and weapons by the year 2005. In Washington, Susak discussed with U.S. officials Croatia's desire to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He said Croatia's admission to the program was postponed at the latest NATO meeting although the U.S. supports its membership. Admission will depend on the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and particularly that in the mainly Muslim and Croat Bosnian Federation, Hina reported. Susak also said Washington would support the termination of the UN mandate in eastern Slavonia -- the last Serb- held part of Croatia -- in mid-July next year. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But Serbia's strongman has other ideas. Meeting on 8 November with Jacques Klein, head of the UN transitional administration in eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic asked that the UN mandate in the area be extended by a full year, AFP reported. Federal Yugoslavia sent a letter to the Security Council officially requesting a year-long extension of the mandate and saying that a shorter mandate could threaten regional stability through the prospect of a mass exodus of tens of thousands of Serbs. Meanwhile, Croatian President Tudjman, who agreed in principle to the six-month extension, met on 9 November with local Serb leaders for the first time, Reuters reported. Serb representative Vojislav Stanimirovic said he hopes that regional elections will be possible in March 1997 and that all local Serbs, not just original prewar residents, will be able to vote. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But it was the elections that continued to dominate the Belgrade papers. Voters throughout the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia went to the polls on 3 November to vote for a federal legislature and local officials. Montenegrin voters also went to select a lower house for their republic, and by the day after the voting it was clear that in those Montenegrin republican elections the ruling Democratic Socialist Party had won by a landslide, taking 45 of 71 seats.

    One of the main issues at stake at the federal level in general was and is the political future of Milosevic. His second term as Serbian president expires in late 1997, and he is constitutionally barred from seeking a third. To continue at the helm of Belgrade politics, he will likely seek to be appointed federal president for a possible seven-year term. Milosevic needs allies in the federal parliament, since it elects the president.

    The leftist coalition headed by Milosevic and his wife Mirjana Markovic, and their potential supporters, ultimately failed to win a two-thirds majority in the 138-seat federal parliament. That two-thirds vote there would have assured Milosevic election to the post of federal president. Nasa Borba on 7 November reported Milosevic's leftist coalition had won 64 seats, and his likely ally, the Montenegrin Democratic Socialist Party, 20. Milosevic's main opposition, the Zajedno (Together) coalition, garnered 22 seats; the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party 16; and the remainder are parceled out among six minor parties and coalitions. Milosevic may curry favor with the minor parties as a way of gaining the support of 91 deputies in a bid for the federal presidency.

    For its part, Milosevic's party was eager to argue that the elections were fair. The official news agency Tanjug stressed that 88 international observers were witnesses, and highlighted remarks by such monitors as the representative of the Hungarian Workers' Party, who called the voting process "democratic."

    Yet officials' behavior, even just hours after the polls closed, suggested they never really doubted the outcome. Soon after voting stopped at 8 p.m. local time, a Socialist representative told the press that Milosevic's leftist coalition had "an overwhelming lead" over Zajedno, and that all that remained uncertain was the final margin of victory.

    Opposition parties, however, have raised serious and substantive questions over alleged electoral improprieties. Djindjic said he was barred from monitoring polls in several districts. Others observed that throughout the campaign, the Socialists dominated most media coverage of the elections -- which failed to even mention opposition-party rallies -- and that the Socialists still controlled vote counting. In addition, independent and pro- opposition media encountered difficulties in reporting returns, prompting allegations of government interference. Some foreign journalists were denied visas in time to cover the polling. Nasa Borba on 4 November reported the all too common case of Podgorica's Radio Antena M, which suffered what may have been a deliberate arson attack as it tried to report irregularities. -- Stan Markotich


    Members of the federal Yugoslav branch of the SDA soon after the vote started a hunger strike to protest those massive election irregularities. According to former SDA leader Sulejman Ugljanin, more than 50% of the Muslim inhabitants of Sandzak -- which is divided between Serbia and Montenegro and has a slight Muslim majority -- were turned back at the polls. Ugljanin demanded a repetition of the vote in Priboj and Prevlja and charged the authorities with violating the law. The SDA won one seat in the federal parliament. Ugljanin's joint Muslim list, which includes smaller Muslim parties, also gained one seat in the federal parliament and the majority of seats in the local legislatures in Novi Pazar, Sjenica and Tutin, Beta reported on 8 November. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Milosevic has had other things to think about besides the elections, too. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck met with him and federal Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic on 7 November, Nasa Borba reported the following day. Shattuck conveyed the message that Belgrade's ultimate reintegration into the community of nations and into international organizations such as the IMF is intimately linked to cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. "It is imperative that those who are under indictment... are turned over, or there will be continued isolation from international financial organizations and international organizations," he said. Shattuck also reportedly observed that other conditions, including respect for human rights and a free media, were among the essential elements of Belgrade's full reentry into the community of nations. -- Stan Markotich


    Meanwhile in Bulgaria, a new president was elected in the 3 November run-off. He is Petar Stoyanov, a 44-year-old lawyer and deputy chairman of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). Virtually unknown to the general public when the campaign began, the "new face" of the SDS managed to unite an opposition that had been fragmented for several years, and to defeat incumbent president Zhelyu Zhelev in a U.S.-style primary aimed at selecting a single opposition presidential candidate.

    And Stoyanov embodies the SDS's new image. Although he was deputy justice minister in 1991-1992, he is not linked with the confrontational style the SDS projected under its former leader Filip Dimitrov. Indeed, Stoyanov's "outstretched hand" policy helped overcome the SDS's strong internal divisions and its intolerance toward other opposition parties, thus following up on the reforms begun by SDS Chairman Ivan Kostov almost two years ago.

    With a reputation for tact and welcoming open discussion and dialogue, Stoyanov sounded like a candidate who might have a real chance of leading the party back to power. Accordingly, he followed the SDS's agenda of first winning the presidential election and then turning to early parliamentary elections. Stoyanov was ultimately chosen presidential candidate at the party's national conference in March with 77% of the vote. He then won the 1 June primary election with 66%.

    In contrast to the strident campaigning that has dominated the Bulgarian political landscape since the fall of communism, Stoyanov avoided overblown or illusory promises and instead stressed the need for "reasonable change." At the very top of his agenda is Bulgarian membership in NATO and the European Union. On the domestic front, in mid-October, Stoyanov -- concerned about the deepening economic crisis -- put forward the idea of a National Salvation Council of experts and respected public figures to advise the government on economic issues. Stoyanov also made a concerted effort to address youth concerns, and portrayed himself as a guitar-playing member of a generation that came of age with the Beatles. Toward his rivals, he projected an attitude of fair play inherited from his experience as a volleyball player.

    Some analysts predict that with Stoyanov as president, the "war between the institutions" -- between the president and the legislature -- will go on. Some others, however, claim there is hope for traditionally divided Bulgaria to ultimately have a president of all Bulgarians, since Stoyanov managed to gradually unite his party's members, the other opposition parties, and finally independent voters in the second round. At his 3 November press conference, Stoyanov declared: "After I and [vice president-elect] Todor Kavaldzhiev received a definitive vote from the nation, the only party that remains for us is called Bulgaria." -- Maria Koinova

    Edited by Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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