Bosniak child Almir Zec, 5, lies in intensive care in Sarajevo’s Kosevo Hospital Thursday. Almir was shot in the head by a Serbian sniper Wednesday while playing near his home in a western suburb of Sarajevo.
By Maud S. Beelman
The Free Lance-Star, p.A11
29 April 1994.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — American and Russian envoys trying to resume Bosnian peace talks faced opposition Thursday from Bosniak leaders who refused to negotiate until they were assured Gorazde is free of Serb forces.
U.N. and NATO officials say Bosnian Serbs have sufficiently met the terms of an ultimatum threatening to bomb any big guns not removed from a 12.5-mile exclusion zone around Gorazde.
But the Bosniak-led government is not convinced all the guns are gone from the enclave, a U.N.-designated “safe area” 35 miles southeast of Sarajevo.
“Our people spotted some 11 positions with heavy weaponry,” said Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. “As soon as the ultimatum is complied with fully, we are ready to talk.”
President Alija Izetbegovic complained that Serbs could simply move the weapons to other fronts. “We are afraid of some new Gorazde,” he said.
Such skepticism complicated matters for U.S. envoy Charles Redman and his Russian counterpart, Alexei Nikoforov, who arrived Thursday in Sarajevo.
They are part of a group formed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev to restart the talks in Bosnia.
U.N. officials concede they cannot be certain all Serb guns are gone from the rugged terrain around Gorazde, but they say progress is encouraging.
The New York Times, quoting a senior Western official, reported in its Friday editions that Serb force were refusing to leave a southern sector of the town, claiming it was populated by Serbs before the war erupted.
The Serb forces in the area, called Zupcici, were posted 800 yards within the NATO exclusion zone, the official told the Times on condition of anonymity. The NATO ultimatum included a demand that Serbs withdraw all forced beyond 1.9 miles from the center of Gorazde.
The envoys hope the return of quiet to the enclave, home to 65,000 refugees and residents, will bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table.
“It’s difficult to be an optimist, but that’s what we and the contact group and diplomats are paid to be,” Redman said after a session with Bosnian government leaders.
He said there was no target date for achieving results. Redman and Nikoforov were to meet with Bosnian Serb leaders Friday at their Pale headquarters east of Sarajevo.
There were signs the Bosniak-led government is hardening its stance on issues other than Gorazde.
Izetbegovic said talks would hinge on a commitment to “respect the sovereignty and integrity” of Bosnia — a shot at Serbs who intend to merge their holdings with Serbia.
In addition, he said, the issue of Bosniaks in the troubled Sandzak region within Serbia must also be addressed. Serbia’s powerful president, Slobodan Milosevic, has said repeatedly that Sandzak is an internal matter that cannot be linked to a Bosnia peace settlement.
Bosnia’s Croats and Bosniaks recently ended their hostilities and agreed to form a loose federation in a deal brokered by Redman.
But talks involving Serbs, who control most of the country, have been largely stalled since February, when NATO warned them to withdraw their heavy weapons ringing Sarajevo or be bombed.
That reinforced a cease-fire that has mostly held in Sarajevo for more than two months. But Serbs took it as a sign that NATO and the United Nations were taking sides in the 2-year-old war.
The arrival of the envoys initially was overshadowed by a furor over comments by Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, the U.N. commander, who criticized Gorazde’s Bosniak defenders.
In a videotaped discussion with peacekeepers Wednesday in Gorazde, Rose implied that the Bosniaks deliberately let the Serbs advance in a bid to draw in U.N. troops and NATO war-planes.
“I think they basically turned and ran and left us to try and pick up the bits,” Rose said. “They think we should be fighting their war for them.”
The tape was made by a soldier traveling with Rose. It apparently was not edited before it was made available to TV journalists in Sarajevo.
Correspondents are barred from Gorazde.
Rose’s remarks infuriated some Bosniaks, who maintain they could defend themselves if the United Nations would drop an arms embargo against Bosnia.
Rose later said he was discussing “two theories which had been proposed to me” and not stating his opinion.
Bosnia’s minority Serbs, armed by the federal Yugoslav army, launched the war two years ago when they rebelled against a Croat-Bosniak vote to secede from Yugoslavia. More than 200,000 people are dead or missing.