(Brussels) - Twelve months ago, the international community postponed municipal elections in Bosnia because the conditions at the time would have made a travesty of the vote. Those same elections are now scheduled for September 13 and 14, but conditions remain much the same.
Although the 1996 elections were officially postponed because of massive irregularities committed during the registration period, top officials responsible for supervising the electoral process also admitted at the time that freedom of movement was limited, refugees had not been allowed to return to their homes, and, most importantly, indicted war criminals maintained predominant political and military control. This situation has not changed. By failing to arrest the indicted, the international community has squandered its best chance to create a safe and democratic climate for Bosnian voters next week.
Instead, the international community, led by the U.S. government, has futilely tried to "sideline" the most influential of indicted persons -- Radovan Karadzic -- who stands accused of genocide. Karadzic is a master of exercising power behind the scenes. Despite agreeing in July 1996 to "withdraw immediately from all political activities," Karadzic remains the most powerful figure in Republika Srpska, and through his deputies and supporters continues to obstruct and undermine all efforts towards peace and democracy in Bosnia. Nothing short of his arrest and that of other indicted persons' will guarantee a peaceful future for Bosnia. The incidents described below illustrate Karadzic's ability to exercise power even after he has "stepped aside."
The international community's current policy in Republika Srpska of providing political and military support for President Bijliana Plavsic is being offered as an alternative to the arrest and transfer of Karadzic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the Hague. Whatever the merits of supporting President Plavsic, real change in Republika Srpska requires that Karadzic be arrested, not sidelined.
The high profile conflict between Bosnian Serb factions should not obscure the fact that Karadzic remains a dominant and corrosive political force. His control takes a variety of forms: he keeps the economy of Republika Srpska in a tight grip, through his control of energy, alcohol and tobacco monopolies and the black market, preventing economic reconstruction and siphoning off aid. His continued domination of the ruling SDS (Srpska Demokratska Stranka) party through his deputies, is evidenced by his attempts to remove Plavsic from office when she accused him and his top officials of corruption.
In many parts of Republika Srpska, Karadzic retains the loyalty of the police, thereby effectively blocking police reform. Many police salaries are paid directly by him, using the money he makes from his domination of the economy. In addition, Karadzic and his supporters retain control over most of the media, especially the Serb Radio and Television (SRT), which is used to broadcast ultranationalist propaganda and to incite attacks on NATO and U.N. personnel. Karadzic has also been linked to an active network of paramilitary organizations, some financed by him, which have been responsible for attacks on refugees and displaced persons trying to return to their former homes as well as on moderate Serbs in Republika Srpska.
It is also important to understand that whatever the outcome of the power struggle in Republika Srpska, Karadzic will not be turned over to the Hague unless he is arrested by international forces. Plavsic, irrespective of her recent acceptance of the Dayton agreement, remains an ultranationalist, who believes that Serbs and Muslims are biologically different and unable to coexist, and has described "ethnic cleansing" as a western term for a natural phenomenon. She does not regard Karadzic as a war criminal and criticizes only his post-war leadership.
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, despite periodic assurances to U.S. Envoy Richard Holbrooke, has shown no signs of withdrawing his support from Karadzic. He has conspicuously avoided supporting Plavsic during the power struggle and, according to NATO sources, officers from the Serb Interior Ministry were sent to Brcko and Bijeljina to support police units loyal to Karadzic during confrontations with SFOR and Plavsic-backed police. Further, Milosevic has no interest in seeing Karadzic sent to the Hague: he himself might be implicated in the case of Karadzic's trial.
Recent events in Brcko, Bijeljina and Banja Luka point to a long established fact: Radovan Karadzic remains a fundamental obstacle to the successful implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. He and his supporters are involved in inciting and orchestrating violence, including attacks on SFOR and IPTF personnel, in blocking police and judicial reform. His party -- the SDS-- is threatening to boycott the elections, and he declared other political parties to be the enemies of Republika Srpska. What follows are a catalogue of incidents linking Karadzic and his supporters to acts of violence, intimidation, corruption, propaganda and subversion throughout Republika Srpska. All demonstrate that Karadzic cannot be sidelined - he must be arrested immediately.
Karadzic Remains De Facto Head of The Ruling SDS Party
The Serbian newspaper Gradjanin reports that at the session of the SDS's Main Committee, held in Pale on September 5, the main speaker was Radovan Karadzic. At that meeting, Karadzic presented his "Guidelines No. 7" a fourteen-page document outlining SDS strategies. The document states: "Although it has been our practice not to mention other parties in our campaign, this time we must tell the people that all the parties which caused the crisis by supporting Bilijana Plavsic's illegitimate practices are endangering our state and its survival..."
At the August 20 meeting of the Main Committee of the SDS in Banja Luka, a huge photograph of Radovan Karadzic was displayed over the heads of attendees, who included Bosnia and Hercegovina Co-President Momcilo Krajisnik, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Gojko Klikovic, and other SDS hardliners. The meeting was televised, in contravention of the agreement on Karadzic's withdrawal from political life, which forbids the use of his image for campaign purposes. Aleksa Buha, Republika Srpska foreign minister, refers to himself as the "acting head" of the SDS in deference to Karadzic's role. Additionally, Karadzic's photographs have been a pervasive presence at SDS rallies. David Foley, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated at a press briefing in Sarajevo on September 8 that this, in addition to references to Karadzic during the rallies, represented "an egregious violation of the agreement of 18 July 1996 [which required Karadzic to leave political office.]"
Karadzic Continues to Be Fully Involved in Government
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on July 17, 1997, Harold Johnson of the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that Radovan Karadzic "effectively retains control of Republika Srpska" and actively participates in thwarting attempts at national reconciliation. Johnson recounted the early June 1997 example of Karadzic directing the Republika Srpska Minister of Refugees not to take part in an "Open Cities" project [a UNHCR initiative to try to provide a financial incentive for municipalities to welcome back returnees.] The minister had been about to submit a list of nine cities in Republika Srpska that wanted to take part in the project.
Karadzic Retains Substantial Control Over the Police
The NATO takeover of the Banja Luka police station revealed a huge cache of weapons which included huge numbers of rifles, grenades, mines, and extensive surveillance equipment, demonstrating the capability of the Pale-aligned police. The police had been part of a force directly paid by Karadzic, according to the New York Times.
Dragan Kijac, the Pale-based "Minister of the Interior," closely associated with Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik, appeared with about 30 armed policemen to escort the Krajisnik entourage to Banja Luka on September 8. Kijac was formally dismissed as Minister of the Interior by President Plavsic in August 1997. As Minister of the Interior, he controlled both regular and secret police forces throughout the Republika Srpska. It is believed that Kijac continues to exert control over police in a number of towns, including Brcko, Bijeljina, Foca, Zvornik, Pale, Doboj, and Teslic.
On September 1, 1997, hundreds of pro-Karadzic supporters surrounded U.S. troops which had seized a Pale-controlled television transmitter near Bijeljina following continued provocations against NATO forces and internationals in the Pale-backed media. Following the withdrawal of SFOR from the television transmitter, police loyal to Biljana Plavsic were forced to leave Brcko or face retribution. According to Reuters, "Karadzic's hard-liners were leaving nothing to chance in Brcko and Bijeljina and had deployed special police units to perform civilian duties."
Karadzic And His Allies Are Willing to Use Violence for Political Ends
On August 15, the Republika Srpska constitutional court (the highest entity court) ruled that Plavsic acted illegally when she dissolved the Republika Srpska parliament on July 3, following signs that Krajisnik and Karadzic, in league with others, were planning to oust her from the presidency of the Republika Srpska. It is known that hard-line Karadzic loyalists control the constitutional court. One judge was beaten up when he indicated that he might support the dissolution of the parliament. Pale television subsequently reported that he had suffered a heart attack. He ultimately abstained from the vote, in fear for his life, having been threatened with "liquidation" when attacked in his hotel room. Only one judge, Rajko Kuzmanovic, dared to dissent, and referred to the court's ruling as "compromised."
When the top three SDS candidates in Brcko were stricken from the ballot by the Election Appeals Sub-Commission for violations of the election law, four bomb threats were made in one day against the OSCE field office in Brcko, and a hand grenade was thrown outside the residence of Ambassador Farrand.
Opposition to Karadzic Is Not Tolerated
Karadzic supporters "have begun a campaign of reprisals, arrests, and death threats against those who have supported recent efforts to isolate Karadzic" according to a September 9 report from the Los Angeles Times. Gunman have carried out raids on the homes of Mr. Karadzic's opponents in three main cities in Republika Srpska, purging pro-Plavsic police from local forces and arresting or dismissing dozens of Serbs opposed to him. Human rights activists in Republika Srpska have been the subject of death threats. A senior American official in Brcko is quoted as accusing Mr. Karadzic's supporters of unleashing a 'reign of terror.'
In Bijeljina, 24 persons who belonged to Karadzic's wing of the SDS but who switched allegiance to Biljana Plavsic have been fired since August 28, including the principal at the local high school, the postmaster, and directors of several companies. Two members of the opposition party were beaten up after putting up campaign posters for the upcoming election.
Karadzic-Controlled Media Incites Violence Against Opponents and Internationals
Following attacks on SFOR troops, UN IPTF police monitors and other internationals in Brcko, Gojko Klikovic stated on Radio Brcko on August 28 that "If you people of Brcko hadn't done this, the same scenario would happen like in Banja Luka...Biljana Plavsic is a new commander of SFOR, she is pushing our children in SFOR uniforms to take our transmitters." He concluded by saying "We have to defend Karadzic, he is our soul".