Air Date: April 9, 1996 Program 9615


Barbara Francis, US spokesperson, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Vladimir Matic, former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Susan Woodward, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, host: This is Common Ground.

VLADIMIR MATIC, former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: There is no military imbalance in Bosnia. As a matter of fact, military balance in Bosnia was achieved during last summer. And this is what made the Dayton peace agreement possible.

DAVIDSON: The first stage of settlement efforts in Bosnia are complete says the five-nation contact group. And now that the warring parties are essentially separated, we'll hear about the next steps to rebuilding Bosnia on this edition of Common Ground.

SUSAN WOOWARD, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution: Will people begin to feel that without the protection of some army, either theirs or NATO, that they have to leave and find safety in the area of their nationality? Then we really have destroyed Bosnia even worse than the war. So I worry a great deal about the consequences of doing this too fast on the people psychologically.

DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

Sixty thousand NATO troops are now a third of the way through their one-year peace mission in Bosnia. The implementation force, or I-4, is in place to oversee the Dayton peace agreement signed last summer by the warring Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. With me to talk about the fragile peace in Bosnia are Susan Woodward, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Vladimir Matic, a former ambassador to the United States from Yugoslavia, who resigned from the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry in June 1993 and has since been living in the United States. Both Matic and Woodward agree that the Dayton peace agreement is only a starting point in the road to rebuilding the former Yugoslavia. I asked Ambassador Matic whether he believes it is a just agreement.

MATIC: I don't think any agreement in Bosnia right now can be just. A just agreement could be reached only in theory and, even then, never imposed in practice. But to mention just one element for your listeners who would judge about the justice of that agreement or any other agreement for that sake, Bosnia had at the beginning of the war 4.6 million people. Now about a million of them are refugees outside of Bosnia, up to the number of 2.8 million. The rest are refugees within Bosnia. Actually about 60 percent of the Bosnian inhabitants were uprooted; and if the agreement is not implemented in its entirety (which is highly improbable), most of them will never be able to get back to their homes and continue their lives.

WOODWARD: There's a lot of discussion about whether this is a just agreement, whether its a just peace. I don't think agreements ever are just; that's not what their character is. Justice is provided by people for other people by governments above all. What we really need to do is to try to help the Bosnians in their difficult end of the war to recreate the capacity to provide justice for each other. That is to say, a legal system that guarantees individual rights and human rights to people regardless of where they live and what their background is; an opportunity for people to work through the legal system to get what they might otherwise take out in blood feud of revenge of the horrors that many of them have been exposed to in the course of the war; and the people on all sides can feel that.

By focusing too much on the agreement, which is after all, as I said earlier, simply a bargain—a political compromise—in order to get the war to stop and start the next stage of recreating life and society in Bosnia, whatever it looks like. We forget that what we demand of ourselves is what we should demand of them; namely, that we provide a country, a government, a just system on the ground. That's what will produce justice or not.

DAVIDSON: Also joining us in this discussion is Barbara Francis, the US spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is working in Bosnia. Barbara Francis, now what exactly is the mandate of UNHCR?

BARBARA FRANCIS: This is the first time we've ever worked in a war zone. We were created in 1951 to take care of refugees who by definition have crossed a border. But more and more these days we're taking care of displaced people, because there's such a great need. We were called into Bosnia by...

DAVIDSON: Those are people who are within their own country, but there's still a conflict going on.

FRANCIS: Right. A displaced person is someone who's been forced to flee his or her home, has not crossed a border, is not protected by international legal instruments, and often is still in conflict areas. Sometimes humanitarian aid workers cannot even get to them. So we have an enormous population there. We're beginning this spring to bring the displaced home first, because a lot of them are living in really appalling collective centers. We'd like to get them out of there. We have a big problem with housing now.

DAVIDSON: At what rate are they going home? Are people going home, and do they feel safe going home?

FRANCIS: Out of the two million, we've reckoned by our field office and in talking to authorities in municipalities, since the peace agreement was signed about 30,000-40,000 people have spontaneously returned; and we plan a formal repatriation operation. We're just waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to break. We reckon in 1996 that we can possibly return or relocate a half a million people, if we're lucky.

DAVIDSON: We're talking in late March, so barring any major problems you foresee in the spring when the weather gets better...

FRANCIS: Just in the next couple of weeks, we think so. We're going to get the major portion of them home between probably now and mid-September when the elections are held. We think if people don't go home by then, they'll wait until the elections are over to see what happens.

DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, what is your feeling about people returning home?

WOODWARD: The difficulty is if too many people want to return before the conditions are either safe from snipers or potential conflict arising of some kind, but also just safe in the physical sense of having a house, a roof over your shoulders. Then you create another humanitarian crisis that is manmade and we are responsible for, because we would be pushing it too fast. There are, in my view, a number of problems. Then I would like to ask her version, in the sense that the elections [that] the Dayton agreement says must happen between six and nine months after the signing of the agreement in December, which means that by September 14 elections must take place at the local level and at the county level and at the national [level]—or, as they would call it, union level—for offices. That means most local government officials are thinking about people returning to their town or city or village in terms of voters. If they calculate that people of a different nationality are coming back and might vote against them, why should they let them back before September? Yet, the Dayton agreement says that people must be able to go home, meaning their homes before the war in 1991, to vote.

So first of all there's a real conflict in the political conditions of people returning. The second one is the one I wanted to ask Barbara about, which is this effort that UNHCR has made very carefully to stage the return so that it can work and people can find housing and so forth. One of the threats to this is not the displaced persons within Bosnia but the many refugees in countries elsewhere, particularly in northern Europe—Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and so forth—where countries want to get rid of these refugees. Let's put it quite bluntly. They say, "We've had them too long. There's too much straining our welfare budgets. They have to leave," and UNHCR's been saying that, "But at the moment, those people have better conditions than people in Bosnia. Will you please wait until we at least settle the displaced within Bosnia?" At the moment my understanding, Germany in particular, is not being very accommodating and has said no matter what we say, what the conditions are, they will begin expelling the hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia in Germany back home by June. This could create a very serious problem. I wonder what she says about that.


MATIC: May I interrupt you just for a second. The so-called internal and external refugees are basically in the same position. Whether a Bosnia refugee is in Canada, Australia, the United States or can see his house from the top of the hill but cannot cross that line in between, to him it doesn't make any difference.

DAVIDSON: He can't go home.

MATIC: He cannot get home. So the situation on the ground has to be changed and those people allowed to get home. What Dr. Woodward said is quite correct. Those who are in power are certainly not interested to get them back. After all, why have they been waging ethnic cleansing with a war and conducting the ethnic cleansing for three-and-a-half years to get them now and allow them back and be outvoted.

DAVIDSON: What obstacles are they putting in their way?

MATIC: They simply don't allow them. The number of refugees in Bosnia was increased by some 50,000-60,000 only in the past two weeks, Serbs from the suburbs of Sarajevo. This was another victory for national intolerance and for all those in Bosnia, the ethnic leaders who have been waging the war.

FRANCIS: Let me say something about return and relocation. This is the most complex, most challenging operation that UNHCR has waged in its 45-year history. We know that. We're writing the book on it as we go along, just as we wrote the book on humanitarian effort as we went along, now having worked in a war zone. But in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy, we are stressing to all parties concerned—the governments of western Europe, the donor governments, the organizing governments, the NATO peace agreement, or any return that we have anything to do with—we're urging it to be gradual, phased, orderly, and voluntary. The key word here is also voluntary. We're not taking anybody home who doesn't want to go home, and we don't even know where that is.

We're stressing to the governments, in western Europe especially, that there be some sort of absentee vote system. I do not work in an organization that organizes elections; and I don't know how feasible this is, but you can't say to someone who's not ready to go home yet, "You have to go home and vote." They may not want to do that. People are going to go home if they feel safe, and we don't even know if they're going to go home when they feel safe.

WOODWARD: On that, if I can interrupt you for a moment, the absentee voting problem is very serious; because it turns out that if refugees register to vote at home, that is in fact in international law terms a declaration of an intent to return back to that city,

FRANCIS: Municipality or wherever.

WOODWARD: Or the country. Therefore, it means that they lose their refugee status in the country that they're now currently given sanctuary. So they cannot protect the refugees from being kicked out early by governments who say, "Well you voted, you belong in Bosnia."

FRANCIS: Could it be that we're looking at a large group of people who will not vote, because they'll look at their safety first? That's possibly what we may be looking at.

WOODWARD: Yes. I think that's right.

DAVIDSON: You're listening to Common Ground, a program on world affairs sponsored by the Stanley Foundation. My guests today are Barbara Francis from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees who's just returned from Bosnia; Vladimir Matic, the former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He's now an international consultant in Columbia, South Carolina. And my other guest is Susan Woodward, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. We're talking about the problems for refugees and the future for the former Yugoslavia.

The Stanley Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to promote thought and dialogue about the world. Tapes of Common Ground programs are available. At the end of the broadcast I'll give you information on how to order.

How much of an obstacle is the fact that the NATO troops are only there at the current time until December? Does that mean there are a lot of refugees out there that feel like that's worrisome?

FRANCIS: Yes. It worries us a lot. We're obviously considering the possibility that people aren't going to go back, because they're going to wait and see what's going to happen once the I-4 troops pull out.

WOODWARD: Another thing that's worth noting about this 12-month limit on the military aspects of Dayton, is the implementation force (I-4) that are there are there only to do the military tasks—separate armies, get them back into barracks, demobilize many soldiers, force heavy weapons either to be destroyed or to be placed in barracks and under control. While all of these other tasks—civilian tasks, resettlement as we've talked about with the refugee organizations, economic reconstruction—the elections are not to be done by the military forces. However, all those other tasks require a sense of some physical and psychological security for people to do them. The only instrument for that security is the presence of these NATO troops. If people think that at the end of 12 months when the military leaves that war will start, then they're going to be acting now not as we want them to, to sustain the peace, to end the war, but about what they think they will have to do at the end when NATO leaves, when the NATO forces leave and maybe prepare for war again.

The consequences of that rapidity, that speed for rebuilding a multi-ethnic Bosnia and reassuring people that they can live together, is disastrous. Will people begin to feel that without the protection of some army, either theirs or NATO, that they have to leave to find safety in the area of their nationality? Then we really have destroyed Bosnia even worse than the war. So I worry a great deal about the consequences of doing this too fast for the people psychologically.

DAVIDSON: Ambassador Matic, what's your view of this 12-month time limit on the NATO forces?

MATIC: This is exactly that other direction of developments which is possible based on the Dayton peace agreement. This is the consolidation of the division of Bosnia and absolute ethnic cleansing because those were the finishing touches only in Sarajevo. We now have probably fewer than 150,000 Bosnians living in some other ethnic area. So it is very possible that during this year this process will be finished, and it will result in the division of Bosnia. It might prove, although it was certainly not the intention of anyone participating in the process (I'm talking about the western alliance) that the Dayton agreement will lead to the formation of three states and the incorporation of two of them into neighboring states (that is Serbia and Croatia).

DAVIDSON: There was just a report...

MATIC: Let me add just one more sentence. I don't believe this will be conducted by another flare-up of armed conflicts and a war in Bosnia. I believe that everybody there will be careful to avoid that. After waging the war for three-and-a-half years, ethnically they'll use peaceful means.

WOODWARD: May I disagree with that a bit. I don't agree with those people in Europe who say that when NATO leaves the war will resume again. Or if you hear in Washington the people who say, "Well, yes, but the war will resume again; and if that's what these people want, then that's what they should get." In other words the sense that we can only do 12-months' work for them and if they are bound to fight they are bound to fight, because it's in their blood. I don't agree with that at all. I agree with you, Ambassador Matic, that the process, not necessarily intended, but the process of implementing this agreement on the ground is leading to more partition and more consolidation of three separate, basically one party, ethnically homogeneous units that are aimed toward being separate states. If you have three separate states in Bosnia Herzegovina—one Serb, one Croat, one Muslim—maybe the Serbs and Croats will go off and join their neighboring motherlands in Serbia and Croatia.

MATIC: In time. Somewhere along the road. Not necessarily immediate.

WOODWARD: Not necessarily immediately. In the meantime if the three sets of leaders of those three states are thinking in terms of creating defensible states and then if we look at the map created at Dayton there are still some very important points that are unresolved, territories that are unresolved. There are certain areas that are where absolutely crucial communication lines for one unit is controlled in part by another unit. So that we won't necessarily have an eruption of full-scale war. But for very important strategic purposes of the survival, in their mind, of their state, each of the three, there will be certain places, the Buricko corridor, the road between Sarajevo and Bihac, the road from Trevina up to Sarajevo, that each one—the Serb area, the Croat area, the Muslim area—of them has yet unresolved territorial issues if they think of themselves not as a part of one country of states. And I say this strongly; because if we could see the direction that the NATO implementation is going, we could say, all right, we have to admit that in some ways we made too many mistakes. At this point we may not be able to bring Bosnia together, but we can prevent another war by helping them resolve by diplomatic means these yet unresolved territorial issues.

DAVIDSON: What is your view of the argument that the military imbalance needs to be addressed and arming [the Bosnian Muslims]?

WOODWARD: My own view is that three armies don't make one country. If you are equipping and training one army, and we say the federation army; but as Ambassador Matic said the federation is a paper, a piece of paper, it doesn't exist. If we are equipping and training one of three armies, we are assuming that they are a separate state. If we really want, for the sake of the Muslims in Bosnia, to give them Bosnia Herzegovina as their country, just like the Croats and Serbs have neighboring country, we should not be spending our scarce resources on giving them an army to fight the Serbs and Croats. We should be giving them lots and lots of money to rebuild economically that country where they can then talk about ways of cooperating with people who were enemies for a while.

MATIC: I couldn't agree more with that, but I would start from another point. There is no military imbalance in Bosnia. As a matter of fact, military balance in Bosnia was achieved during last summer. And this is what made the Dayton peace agreement possible. The distribution of land they control before Dayton started was about 50-50, because the Serbs were holding a little bit more than 70 percent maybe on August 1. Forty days later [they] had less than 50 percent. The combination of the forces of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, supported by the Croatian army—and quite well with the aircrafts and tanks—is more than a balance for the army of Bosnian Serbs. So exactly the balance on the ground made the Dayton agreement possible.

I would go on from that and say that maybe flare-ups are possible but very, very much localized, more the sort of incidents but not a new war. The Bosnian Serbs and their leaders in Belgrade know quite well that this new war would not be like the one they waged; that they will have against them not only the Bosnian Muslims and the Croatian army but NATO and the United States. They're quite well aware of that, and they could not stand it.

The Bosnian Muslims know if they start the war, if they are the ones who renounce the agreement, they will have no assistance; and they're finished. The Croats in Bosnia have, I guess, more than they dreamed they will have in the end, so they have no incentive to start that.

DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, do you agree that there is no longer a military imbalance on the ground?

WOODWARD: Yes. I agree with that. The problem now is, in fact, that for those people who worry about military balance were largely focused on whether the Bosnian Muslims can defend themselves against a potential attack from either the Serbs or the Croats. The real problem is that their own position depends entirely on support from the Bosnian Croats and particularly from Croatia. We know very well from the statements of the Croatian government, and from the problems with the federation between Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims, that if the Bosnian Muslims increase their military capacity from where they are now and maybe even enter into new conflicts, but certainly even just increase their capacity, that then they really have lost the alliance and the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims cannot win alone. They really have a much greater problem in my view from what the Croatian government calls its own security interests in Bosnia.

DAVIDSON: I want to spend the last couple of minutes talking about the War Crimes Tribunal, because that has gotten so much attention internationally. But I'd like to know, and perhaps Barbara Francis you could address this, how important in the people you talk with, the refugees, is the War Crimes Tribunal in ending this war? In Bosnia itself, do they view this as an important element?

FRANCIS: I think they'd like a sense of justice. I just came back from there; and I was in a few towns where people have come back, and they see what's happened. They've lost relatives. They've been ethnically cleansed. They have a sense of outrage. I think that it's necessary for it to even begin, even if... I hesitate to use the word reconciliation, but I'd like to hear the views of my colleagues.

MATIC: I believe that we cannot talk about resurrection of Bosnia and stabilization there without dealing properly with the war crimes. By dealing properly, I would give an example from the second world war. The nations of Yugoslavia lived after that for more than 50 years in peace and relative prosperity. What made it possible? The perpetrators of these crimes, if they did not withdraw with the occupying armies, the Germans and others, were tried and sentenced. What is even more important, they were condemned by the public, by everybody, and that made it possible for those belonging to the families of the victims and to families of those who committed the crimes to be neighbors again. The crimes were not attributed to the nation from which the perpetrators come; they were attributed to the ideology of Nazism, which was condemned and dealt with properly. This is what Bosnia needs now if we are talking about any future for all the people there. This is something they themselves have to do. If you take individuals to The Hague, and especially if it can be presented that they are abducted, you'll make martyrs out of them, instead of exposing their crimes. It has to be a sort of self soul cleansing process for all of the Bosnians. This is the only way to the future for the people in Bosnia.

DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, I'll give you the last word on the War Crimes Tribunal.

WOODWARD: I agree completely with what Ambassador Matic just said, especially the fact that it's in The Hague and feels imposed as the way Ambassador Matic has suggested. It's perceived by some people to be a continuing part of the retribution against some people and not others. In other words, part of continuing of the collective assignment of guilt rather than the individual accountability of people for their crimes. Therefore, there is probably going to be needed exactly this kind of supplementary process coming from within for Bosnians themselves to talk about how they are going to deal openly with discussing what has happened over the last four or five years, having truth commissions and a discussion of it the way we found in South Africa and Argentina and other places that it worked better than simply criminal trials. And ways in which people can, in a sense, take back their own history and create it as they're going now rather than having the outside world decide who was right and who was wrong. The process in The Hague is really more for people on the outside. It's for the international community to say, "Well we didn't act early enough to prevent this but at least we can say what we do not accept in other cases."

DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward has been my guest on Common Ground. She's a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. We also heard from Barbara Francis, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Vladimir Matic, former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He resigned from the post in 1993 and now lives in the United States. For Common Ground, I'm Mary Gray Davidson.

Tapes of this program are available for a cost of $5.00. To order a tape or to let us know what you think about the program, please write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Suite 500, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. When placing your order be sure to ask for Program No. 9615. For credit card orders you can call 319-264-1500.

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