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Serbs Protest Albright in Bosnia

March 8, 2000

BRCKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Hundreds of Serbs chanted ``killers″ as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright drove by today, marring her visit to a Bosnian city meant to serve as an example of ethnic harmony for Kosovo’s residents.

Meanwhile, in Kiseljak, about 60 miles to the south, a demonstration by close to 10,000 Bosnian Croats also turned into an anti-U.S. protest.

Albright, who earlier today concluded a sentimental visit to her Czech homeland, arrived in Brcko for an announcement formally making the northern city a multiethnic district.

Brcko already has a multiethnic government approved by the international officials running the city. Its residents are exempt from the draft, a symbolic gesture meant to demonstrate the importance of peace.

But as Albright’s motorcade drove up to the municipal building where the announcement and ceremony making the city a district was to take place, about 300 Serbs began chanting ``killers,″ ``thieves″ and obscenities.

One of the vehicles was hit by an egg, and many protesters waved three fingers in the air in the traditional Serb salute. Some in the crowd also chanted, ``Dodik, traitor″ _ a reference to Milorad Dodik, the pro-Western premier of the Serb half of Bosnia.

Nationalist Serbs still resent the United States for its support of Muslims during the Bosnian war, which ended in 1995 after NATO bombing helped force the Serbs to seek peace.

But Serbs aren’t the only ethnic group in Bosnia angry at Americans.

In Kiseljack, protesters accused the West of being anti-Croat because of the U.N. war crimes tribunal’s recent decision to sentence Gen. Tihomir Blaskic to 45 years in prison for atrocities against Muslims. They burned a U.S. flag and whistled each time Albright’s name was mentioned.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo advised Americans to stay away from Kiseljak, some 25 miles west of Sarajevo, and the southern city of Mostar, where more demonstrations were expected.

The status of Brcko was the only territorial issue left unresolved in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.

Brcko had been under sole control of Bosnian Serbs until last year, when it was placed under joint administration of the Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

Bosnian Serbs insisted on maintaining control because Brcko is on a narrow corridor linking Serb-held lands in the east and west of the country.

But the Muslim-Croat federation wanted access to the river and rail facilities. The federation also wanted the thousands of mostly Muslim refugees to be able to return to their homes in Brcko.

International mediators twice postponed a decision on Brcko’s future because of the sensitivity of the issue and the strong claims by both sides. After the international decision in March 1999 removed it from exclusive Serb control, hundreds of Bosnian Serbs demonstrated in the Serb half of the country, refusing to accept its neutrality. The protests eventually died down.

In a speech Tuesday in the Czech capital, Prague, Albright noted that critics once feared the Brcko issue could derail the entire peace process but said ``those predictions were wrong.″ Albright said that gives rise to hope that the same level of cooperation can be reached eventually in Kosovo, especially in the explosive city of Kosovska Mitrovica, where dozens were injured in ethnic clashes Tuesday.

During her two-day visit here, Albright is to meet with representatives of all three ethnicities _ Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

Upon arriving in Sarajevo from Prague, Albright headed to the U.S. Embassy for a meeting with Bosnian opposition leaders.

Albright was to return to Sarajevo today for meetings with the national leaders before traveling to the Bosnian Serb capital, Banja Luka, for talks with Dodik, the Bosnian Serb prime minister, and other moderate leaders at odds with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The United States and others accuse Milosevic of continuing to foment ethnic conflict, not only in Kosovo but in Bosnia through efforts to undermine pro-Western Bosnian Serb politicians.

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