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Dispute over Brcko Prompts Threat of War, Attacks on Americans

December 4, 1996

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ American peacekeeping troops and all of Bosnia will suffer if Bosnian Serbs aren’t allowed control of a key northern city, the Bosnian Serb premier warned Tuesday.

Should arbitrators award the hotly contested city of Brcko to the Muslims and Croats, the result will be war, Premier Gojko Klickovic told reporters in the Serb stronghold of Pale.

``American troops will feel it on their skin,″ Klickovic said.

Brcko currently is under Serb control, but the Muslim-Croat federation wants the city made an international protectorate under a U.S. administrator. Brcko has a river port and crucial railroads and highways that link it to Croatia and Western Europe. U.S. troops patrol the area.

Under the Dayton accord, the decision on Brcko was to be made by Dec. 14, but that timetable is expected to be pushed back two months.

The future of Brcko, which had a Muslim majority before the war, is to be decided by binding arbitration of a committee comprised of U.S. arbitrator Roberts Owen and representatives of the Serb substate and the Muslim-Croat federation.

The Serbs withdrew from the committee over the weekend because U.S. officials are pressuring Owen to favor the federation, Klickovic said Tuesday. The Serbs had not attended any committee sessions, even before they formally withdrew.

In a statement faxed to The Associated Press in Tuzla, Owen and federation arbitrator Cazim Sadikovic said the Bosnian Serb pullout was ``a clear breach of its international obligations″ under the Dayton peace accord.

Brcko, located on the Sava River border with Croatia, is considered crucial to the survival of each entity. For the Serbs, it is the narrowest part of a corridor linking their holdings in east and west.

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