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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    TUE, 22 FEB 1994 21:29:58 GMT

    Serbia and the ultimatum to Bosnian Serbs

    BELGRADE UNDERSTOOD THE MESSAGE

    Summary: Belgrade took the NATO ultimatum seriously. Milosevic told the leader of Bosnian Serbs, Karadzic, that he should not play around with it, because he might start a fire of great proportions. The opposition reacted differently. The leader of the Democrats, Djindjic went to Pale on the eve of the deadline of the ultimatum, and the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Draskovic, said that he would rather be with "our" people in Sarajevo, than in Pale. The forthcoming hours and days will show whether the Bosnian Serbs have taken the threat of the NATO seriously.

    AIM, BELGRADE, February 20, 1994

    While leaving the office of the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, following their first consultations after the demand to Bosnian Serbs to withdraw heavy armament from around Sarajevo was issued by the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Radovan Karadzic was obviously nervous and pale.

    His casual remark uttered in passing in which he compared the threat declared by the NATO the day before with the ultimatum of Austria-Hungary given to Serbia in 1914, sounded more like a reproach of Milosevic than as an official Serbian response to the set conditions. Because Milosevic had said to Karadzic in a raised voice not to run the risk of losing his head, that this time the situation was serious indeed, and that by acting irrationally the Bosnian Serbs could easily provoke a war with unforeseeable consequences.

    The trouble is that among the Bosnian Serbs, especially the members of the army of the "Republic of Srpska" there are a lot of those who wish for the Serbian armed forces from across the Drina to finally join them openly, even if that would mean a total Balkan, or perhaps an even broader war, because they are aware that they are not capable of making their belligerent and political ambitions come true on their own.

    While hectic diplomatic consultations went on afterwards, Karadzic was strictly following Milosevic's direction both in Belgrade and in Pale - he persistently made reconcilable statements. The cameras of the "Serbian Television" took a shot of him one morning in his office in Pale at 04.15 h, obviously tired, and it was commented that "Mister President is so busy these days that he has hardly any time to sleep". His Vice-president, Nikola Koljevic - obviously trying to mitigate certain disonant and militant statements which "slipped" some of the Serbian generals - said that it was not an ultimatum given to the Serbs, it was an "ultimatum to the war", and that was the reason why the Serbs accepted it in full!

    But still, it seemed that the Commander of the Army of the "Republic of Srpska", general Ratko Mladic, was the busiest. For several days, he was not even seen in Pale, and during all that time he was represented by the Chief of Staff, general Momcilo Milovanovic at the negotiations with the UN Commander in Sarajevo, Michael Rose. To a question - where Mladic was? - the informed officials mysteriously answered that he had to leave urgently on a "very important journey". After his return, he himself said that he had been "at the front".

    Whatever it might be, it is highly probable that Mladic's journey was in some kind of a connection with the urgent measures for preparation of the anti-aircraft defence system of the Bosnian Serbs which was supposed to resist the NATO planes. The commander of the air-force and anti-aircraft system of defence of the Army of the "Republic of Srpska", general Mile Novakovic, briefly and mysteriously, later said that "many surprises are in line" for the NATO pilots. And a Swedish general - referring to subsequent assessments of the Western information sources, on Sunday, just a few hours before the ultimatum expired, said that Serbian anti-aircraft defence system in Bosnia "is not exactly rudimentary", as it was believed, because it included Soviet missile systems which could reach planes even at heights of 5,000 metres!

    But, as the deadline of the ultimatum was drawing closer, the official Belgrade found it harder to conceal its confusion, and fear even of bombardment of the Serbian positions which could actually occur. Milosevic's Socialists in the Assembly of Serbia avoided joining the proposal of Seselj's Radicals to pass a special resolution stating that, in the case of bombardment of the Bosnian Serbs, Serbia would consider itself attacked. Appropriate inevitable patriotic declarations necessary to encourage the terrified domestic public were given by junior officials only and unidentified "diplomatic sources" in Belgrade, cited by the state news agency, the Tanjug.

    The opposition was also confused, and as a rule, disunited. The leader of the Democratic party, Zoran Djindjic, announced that he would travel to Pale on Sunday, on the eve of the expiry of the ultimatum to be there to "share the destiny with the Serbian brethren". He actually did that, and is in Pale now. The other opposition leaders, even those who usually express even more radical nationalistic views than Djindjic, did not follow his example. The leader of the major opposition group in the Serebian Assembly, Vuk Draskovic, assessed this as "cheap petty politicking".

    "I wish I could go to Sarajevo, to be among our people who live in the city. Because there are more of our people living in Sarajevo than in Pale and the surrounding hills around Sarajevo. But, since I cannot be with our people living in Sarajevo, I do not wish to be with those in Pale either", Draskovic said.

    Relief came on Thursday afternoon when it was announced that an agreement was reached on deployment of Russian soldiers within the UN forces in critical positions around Sarajevo. "Moscow saved the NATO", Belgrade daily newspaper "Politika" concluded the morning after. However, judging by the noticeable decrease of tension which followed immediately in the entire domestic public and the majority of the media, it was obvious that Moscow has on this occasion also saved - the Serbs.

    Naturally, Belgrade is now openly rejoicing because of the active role of Moscow in the Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis. Although the Russians demanded nothing less from the Serbs than the NATO - withdrawal of heavy arms from the Sarajevo surroundings - the Serbs now say that they have not obeyed the NATO, but the Russians... Thus, at least temporarily, new bloodshed in Sarajevo was avoided, and all may breathe a little more easily and even say that they have gained an advantage. The NATO saved its reputation and credibility, because its ultimatum was respected. The UNPROFOR saved its men from possible danger in the case of bombardment of the Serbs, and avoided an open conflict with the Commanding structures of the NATO. The Russian gained an important diplomatic point...

    It only remains to be seen whether Karadzic's Serbs, who are now trying to present it all as their own political victory, just like the other two warring parties, will realize that nothing in Bosnia will ever be like it used to be. Because, those much greater and more powerful finally got involved in this war, announcing that they are ready to get it over with - by all possible means!

    STEVAN NIKSIC