Rebel Leaders Trying to Sell Peace Plan to Serb Holdouts
PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Thousands of Serbs demonstrated against the Bosnian peace agreement in Sarajevo today, only hours after their leaders grudgingly told them to accept the deal.
Crying and holding up their children as symbols of their sense of betrayal, Serbs in the Grbavica district declared they will never leave their homes there.
``Sarajevo is ours,″ said one banner. ``We will stay here,″ said another.
Failure to persuade recalcitrant Serbs to accept the agreement initialed in Dayton, Ohio, could torpedo international efforts to bring peace to Bosnia after 3 1/2 years of bloodletting.
``The time has come to use political means to achieve our goals,″ Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said after telling a prime time television audience Friday night: ``We accept the peace.″
But Karadzic faced a tough audience. Earlier Friday leaders of Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo told him they could not accept the U.S.-brokered plan that obliged them to cede control of their territory.
``The people of Serb Sarajevo simply have nowhere to go, unless America offers us a new city in Ohio where we all can move,″ one of the leaders, Ratko Adzic, was quoted as saying by the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA.
The peace agreement roughly halves Bosnia, with one part governed by Serbs and the other by a Muslim-Croat federation. The more than 100,000 Serbs in Sarajevo would have to return control of their portion of the capital to the Muslim-led government.
``The war started here, and it will finish here. We have defended the corners and the streets, and we will stay here. Where else would 120,000 people go?″ said Nesa Dodik, 32, a soldier at the Grbavica protest.
Serbs also took to the streets today in Vogosca, a Serb-held suburb of the city. A similar rally Friday in the Ilidza suburb drew hundreds of protesters.
Some Sarajevo Serbs said they would fight to death, others that they would burn their homes and leave.
Nikola Koljevic, a Bosnian Serb leader viewed as a possible successor to Karadzic, also went on television to appeal to Serbs to accept the ``historic task″ of ending 3 1/2 years of war.
He conceded Serb people would have a difficult time accepting NATO troops’ presence in Bosnia to enforce the peace.
``Those who yesterday bombed our people now become peacemakers,″ he said. ``The wounds are still fresh and our main problem will be to persuade our people to accept NATO on our soil.″
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic met with the presidents of Yugoslavia and Montenegro in Belgrade on Friday. They were believed to have discussed their options should defiant Sarajevo Serbs threaten the peace deal.
Despite urging Serbs to accept the agreement, Karadzic and Momcilo Krasjisnik _ speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament _ said during their television appearance that Milosevic had ignored their demands at the peace talks.
``Milosevic outvoted us″ on the issue of posting NATO troops on Serb-held territories, and agreed to give away Serb-held territory in western Bosnia, Krasjisnik said.
``It seems that nobody conveyed our messages to the international negotiators,″ he said.
Karadzic plans to attend next month’s signing of the peace deal in Paris, along with Gen. Ratko Mladic, SRNA reported. Karadzic reportedly said that under the constitution he has to sign as ``the president of the (Bosnian Serb) republic.″
The report could not be independently confirmed, and both rebel leaders could face arrest on indictments by the U.N. war crimes tribunal if they venture outside their territory.
On Friday, President Clinton released letters from Milosevic and the presidents of Bosnia and Croatia guaranteeing the ``safety and security″ of peacekeepers.
Milosevic’s letter includes a paragraph saying Bosnian Serbs will comply with the accord.
Defense Secretary William Perry, visiting Bosnia-bound troops in Germany, said military officials were not expecting ``organized opposition″ to their mission.
But he added: ``We do expect _ given the years of war and the hatred that has built up _ resistance from some individuals and gangs.″