TUE, 06 JUN 1995 20:32:51 GMT
AIM, BELGRADE, June 4, 1995
Belgrade Negotiating Marathon - Round Two
"Hostage crisis" helps Serb President in negotiations with US envoy
On Friday afternoon, June 2, a peculiar press conference was held in the International Press Centre in Belgrade. Journalists rushed in hoping that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had something important to say when it convened the conference at that inconvenient hour. In fact, it turned out that there was nothing new. The "important news", journalists concluded, was left for the beginning of the new week. The wonder lasted until late that evening when the first program of Television Serbia publicized a longish story about 120 members of Unprofor who were taken over from the Bosnian Serbs by the special envoy of President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic.
It turned out later that impersonality of the press conference was caused by the delay of the "taken over Unprofor group". The reason for the delay was confusion arisen after shooting down of the American F-16 fighter-bomber near Mrkonjic Grad. In the end, it all somehow came together and settled down in a mosaic which could be most convenient for the President of Serbia, who was at the time having concluding talks with the American Ambassador, Robert Frasure.
While in the official statement, the meeting of Milosevic and Frasure was characterized as "an all-inclusive exchange of opinions aimed at promotion of the peace process", experts, commentators and diplomatic sources interpreted it as "the last step" in difficult negotiations concerning lifting of the sanctions imposed against the FR of Yugoslavia by the world community, and Yugoslav recognition of Bosnia & Herzegovina, on the other hand. In this complex moment, by the action of freeing the hostages (and the announcement that the process would be continued in the next few days), Slobodan Milosevic, until recently called "the butcher from the Balkans", presented himself to the world as a "cooperative politician" and, what is even more important for him - as the only one who can adequately influence the Bosnian Serbs. This gesture of his verified that the negotiations had entered the final phase, because apart from having done a "good deed", Milosevic showed that he had given up his for more than a year repeated phrase that Karadzic's "Republic of Srpska" was an independent state and that apart from introducing sanctions against it, he could do nothing about it.
Competition with the Russians
No matter how paradoxical it may seem, had there been no "hostage crisis" in Bosnia, Milosevic would have found it worthwhile to make it up. His "supporters" in the Contact Group (Russia which was after this had happened openly supported by France and Britain) could on this obvious example show the Americans that at least for the Serbs in Serbia, the club was not a better offer than the carrot.
Reprimands referred to the previous round of negotiations interrupted by Frasure on May 23 without any "immediate plans to return to the Yugoslav capital". The world was disappointed with the American firm stance which bounced against Milosevic's inflexibility that it was a thin offer for a serious deal. The offer included recognition of Bosnia, recognition of Croatia and an even more rigid control of the border with Bosnia in exchange for six-month suspension of the sanctions. Continued embargo of oil import and ban of access to international monetary organizations for the FRY was also mentioned.
As soon as Frasure flew away, Alexander Zotov, special envoy of the Russian President Yeltsin arrived in Belgrade the very next day. The Americans slackened a little immediately: "We hope that we will coordinate the stance with the Russians after an eye-to-eye talk", Nicholas Burns, State Department spokesman said.
While a real drama was going on in Bosnia in the last days of May - NATO planes bombed arms storage two kilometres from Pale, and then UN military observers were taken hostages - Milosevic was extremely restrained. Only the federal administration gave a statement about being convinced that "peaceful solution and negotiations had no acceptable alternative". By careful selection of information, the state controlled media kept the public far from the "Bosnian shooting" which was heated by threats and warnings, preparation of forces for urgent interventions, arrival of American marines in the Adriatic... The impression was as if the Drina was somewhere beyond Zanzibar. Opposition parties in the federal parliament demanded a discussion about foreign policy of the FRY, that is, about the negotiations concerning recognition of Bosnia & Herzegovina. By various tangles concerning the procedure, the session dragged on until the last day of May when Radoman Bozovic, Chairman of the Chamber of Citizens, ended the discussion, saying that the regular session ended on May 31 anyway, that some deputies had to travel, and he himself wished to see a theatre performance at a festival in Novi Sad.
But, Robert Frasure came to Belgrade again, after all, on May 31. The offer was considerably changed this time. Whether Croatia was disqualified because of waging war in Western Slavonia, or something else was at issue, yet it was not mentioned any more in Frasure's package. (Federal prime minister, Radoje Kontic, explained it as follows: "It is left to Zagreb to agree on everything with Knin"). The Russians publicized immediately that "documents for lifting of the sanctions are being prepared". Yeltsin publicly snapped at the Americans when he was asked to mediate in the "hostage crisis". And Helmut Kohl showed readiness to establish official contacts between Germany and Yugoslavia.
In monotonous and prolonged statements, federal foreign minister, Vladislav Jovanovic, announced that "perhaps conditions are being created for recognition of B&H". At the same time Serb prime minister, Mirko Marjanovic, declares: "We must be ready for lifting of the sanctions".
The Serb public was completely made ready for the "great shift". Voices coming from the Serb Orthodox Church which was publicly urged by Radovan Karadzic to demand from Milosevic not to recognize Bosnia were completely disregarded in public. Many people attended a rally held downtown Belgrade where members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubomir Tadic, Milorad Ekmecic, but also oppositionists Kosta Cavoski and Leon Kojen spoke against recognition of B&H. Protests of the Radicals and two democratic parties also had little effect. Those who believed that Milosevic would have a lot of problems explaining why he "sold brethren from across the Drina" were not right, of course. Everyone is fed up with the war, and there is the hope - and it does not matter that it is wrong - that getting rid of the sanctions means getting rid of - poverty.
The only thing left to do is for Milosevic to bargain with the Americans about the price. And when general Mladic, the Bosnian Serbian commander, who is claimed to be the main Milosevic's support among the Bosnian Serbs, shot down a "Phantom" plane over Bosnia, the truth almost coincided with the boring and a million times repeated by the Socialists phrase about "political solution having no alternative". The decision of the Bosnian Serbs to agree to turn the kidnapped Unprofor members, their powerful weapon, into a "valuable political point for Milosevic" is probably a foreboding of different relations between Belgrade and Pale. On the one hand, under great pressure, and on the other, delivered from responsibility that he "is returning territories for which Serb blood was shed", Radovan Karadzic could appear as a negotiator. Handing over Unprofor members to Milosevic's envoy, Jovica Stanisic, head of the State Security Service, shows that Serbia's President is the only one who seems to have certain "secret power" by means of which, at least to a certain extent, he can control the behavior of the authorities from Pale.
That is how Milosevic's negotiations with Robert Frasure in Dobanovci, some twenty kilometres from Belgrade, could be a significant event in the attempt to end the Bosnian war. The better known and more luxurious Karadjordjevo is left for negotiating the most important agreement for the former Yugoslav space - that with Croatia. As if there is any cosmic logic in it...