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Bosnia-Herzegovina: International Patience Is Fading

Bosnia-Herzegovina: International Patience Is Fading

Source: Transcript of NATO Secretary General, Lord George RobertsonÂ’s statement at CPIC, Tito Barracks, Sarajevo, December 21, 2000.

It is a great pleasure to be here again in Sarajevo. So close to the anniversary yesterday of the IFOR troops of NATO coming here to Bosnia and Herzegovina to stop the killing and the torturing and the ethnic cleansing, and to bring peace and hope to this troubled part of the European continent.

I believe that the IFOR entry five years ago marked a new and hopeful chapter in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I retain my optimism about the future despite my frustration at some of the things that still are not happening. I am delighted to be accompanied by General Dodson, the Commander of SFOR, this morning.

I spent some time today meeting German, Italian, French and other troops of SFOR, who are here at their own traditional holiday season, still keeping the peace in Sarajevo, still committed to the Mission that we started five years ago, a remarkable effort by IFOR and by SFOR. Tens of thousands of troops from many nations have come together here, over these five years, to give the people of this country an opportunity to seek a better future in an atmosphere of peace and stability. In a country that was devastated by ethnic conflict, SFOR is in many ways an example itself that people do not have to be forever trapped in the past as victims of ethnic division.

Afterall, the many nations, the 36 nations, I think it is, that make up SFOR were not so long ago enemies that have now banded together in a common and a noble cause of bringing peace and stability here. Every time that I have come to Sarajevo I can see the success of that endeavour. Security has dramatically improved; the people no longer need to live in fear. This year more refugees have returned than in other previous years and more and more of those who have been indicted for war crimes are now waiting in the Hague for the justice of the International Criminal Tribunal. Elections in this country have now become routine and last night I insisted that I get a chance to have a walk in the streets of Sarajevo to see how normal people were getting around and getting on with normal lives again.

I see big changes that have taken place and to walk through the centre of the old town to see the mosques, the catholic and orthodox churches in close proximity. Three faces but one festive holiday season and I think that is a great signal for the future and a symbol of what can be there for the people of this country, if they have the courage and they have the strength to take into their own hands ownership of their country and their own future. There is of course a down side too, and increasingly the international community feels it has done its part and put the conditions for success into place, but it is now the time for the political leadership of this country, and the people that it represents to do more for themselves.

Frankly, international patience is fading; international frustration is growing, so Bosnia and Herzegovina can no longer afford to continue to support the extreme nationalists, which have caused all of your problems in the first place. The results of these years of ethnic nationalism and hatred is quite obvious, three armies, two entities, one country and no money, that is more than Bosnia and Herzegovina and the people of this country deserve better. They need a leadership committed to building effective central institutions to work for and with all of the ethnic groups. This also means armed forces that operate under unified command and under common doctrine.

Economic reform is also critical and it is urgent. Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot expect to continue receiving the level of aid and handouts that it has in the past. It has got to create its own self-sustaining economy and that means fighting and prosecuting corruption and creating the right environment through sensible taxation and regulations and financial services. The hard fact is that Bosnia and Herzegovina is risking being left behind, as the international community sees reform in Croatia and the remarkable changes and the prospect in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This region is on the move and this country must do more to keep up.

Aner Cohadzic - APTN - How do you think KFOR should prevent the Albanian rebels getting into the buffer zone and can you react on the recent allegations from the new Serb government that KFOR is not doing enough to prevent Albanian rebels going into the buffer zone?

Lord Robertson - On the first point, how do we prevent the ground safety zone being used as a safe haven for extremist violence? That is already being done and tackled and indeed KFOR troops only last night stopped some vehicles carrying explosives and munitions into the ground safety zone. That is not the first find that they have made and very effective patrolling of that area is now making sure that it is very difficult for those extremists to continue with the job that they have been doing in the area. Of course, the Serb Government is frustrated by what is happening in the ground safety zone, so am I, so is General Cabigiosu, the Commander of KFOR.

That is why we are taking active measures politically and militarily to stop the violence going on. It is also why General Cabigiosu met the Deputy Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, yesterday, in a top level joint implementation committee in the region itself. So, a combination of KFOR, with restraint being shown on the Serbian side and the active measures that have been taken on the Kosovo side of the boundary, I believe, will address this issue and the growing political isolation of the extremists who use the ground safety zone to launch violence and try and provoke violence is now starting to produce results. It is in nobody's interests that these provocations get a response and therefore NATO, KFOR and, if necessary, an association with the FRY Serbian authorities will continue to deal with the problem of a small number of extremists.

Aner Cohadzic - APTN - Are you aware that decreasing the size of the troops by 15% is going to create a new army of jobless people here in an already devastated economy and have you got any plans or any reaction to this?

Lord Robertson - Well, what is being reduced is the budget of the entity-armed forces, which is not necessarily the same as the numbers. Clearly, if the armed forces here are going to be useful to the country and therefore value for the money that is being spent on them, then they must be smaller and they must be better trained and they must come under that unified command and control. Only in that way will they provide territorial defence, provide the capability for civil emergencies and be able to contribute to UN peace keeping, which is the ambition of all armed forces in all of the countries in the Euro-Atlantic area. So that has to take place and no army ever should simply be a method of creating work or creating jobs. That is a basic principle but the people of this country will only get jobs, proper jobs, real jobs if the economy grows and corruption is rooted out. That is why SFOR's Mission along with the other organisations is not simply to keep the peace by military patrols; it is to build a sense of self ownership in this country, that will produce the work and the jobs and simply avoid the possibility where armies are there as job making schemes.

Antonio Prlenda - Oslobojenje - If Bosnia and Herzegovina today would have armed forces with the joint command and common defence policy and doctrine would it be enough to be accepted to the Partnership for Peace (PFP) membership? What is the feeling in NATO?

Lord Robertson - Well, that is a prerequisite for looking towards membership of the Partnership for Peace. It is not sufficient, but it would be a very good start to get along that way. You cannot possibly get into the Partnership for Peace unless these building blocks are in place. I said last year when I took over this job that I had an ambition to get the two remaining European countries into the Partnership for Peace. One of these is Bosnia and Herzegovina and the other one is Yugoslavia. I still have that ambition even although the Yugoslav political authorities have not yet got to the point of even contemplating it. But it would be an incredible irony if Yugoslavia was to make it before Bosnia and Herzegovina. So a unified command and control, a unified military doctrine and a common defence policy as prerequisites for the country and I urged the Tri-Presidency this morning to get on with developing all three of these things and to doing it urgently and putting it in place quickly.

Nedim Dervisbegovic - Reuters - Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte recently criticised SFOR for not carrying out more arrests of local war crime suspects. In recent months as more than 20 publicly indicted, remain at large and any number of secretly indicted war crime suspects. Are we going to see more arrests soon? You mentioned refugee returns; refugees often call security as one of the main concerns when they try to go back, especially in Eastern Bosnia?

Lord Robertson - Chief Prosecutor del Ponte is frustrated in not getting enough of the indicted people to The Hague. I share that frustration and so does General Dodson, but not all of the people who have been indicted live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. SFOR and NATO have no authority out with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo but I am determined if we find any of these people, trace any of these people who have been indicted, then they will be arrested and they will be taken to the Hague. I think there have been ten, in my time; we have arrested ten inductees during the fourteen months that I have been Secretary General of NATO, and there will be more, I can assure you of that, and each and every one of those who have been indicted, if they are alive, will eventually face the prosecution at the Hague. The net is closing more and more and ultimately all of those who have been indicted will be there as well. In terms of refugee returns, then obviously SFOR has got a role to play there as well in providing safety and security, providing a safe environment to allow the return of refugees to take place. It is because of the professionalism and the efficiency and the sheer courage of the troops of SFOR, in the last year we saw more refugees returning than ever before. The creation of the safe environment has allowed for a spontaneous return of refugees on a scale that was unthought of two or three years ago and I believe that that will continue.

Fedzad Forto - BiH Press - Are we going to see any changes in the SFOR composition and mandate after the 20th January?

Lord Robertson - No, it is a simple answer. The Foreign Ministers of NATO last week decided that SFOR will remain in its present form for the time being at the numbers that are there. Although General Dodson and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe have got a responsibility to ensure that their troops are deployed in the most efficient way that is possible, but ministers have asked for options to be considered for the configuration of SFOR for later in the year 2001. They will examine these options at their meeting in May and June of next year.

Amra Hadziosmmanovic - AFP - The chief prosecutor of the ICTY also suggested that NATO should form a special unit tasked with the rest of the war criminals. What is your opinion of such an idea and are you ready and prepared to do that?

Lord Robertson - Well, that was a suggestion of Mrs. Del Ponte and we have looked at it carefully. There are 22,000 troops in SFOR who are all committed to the arrest and interdiction of those who have been indicted in terms of war crimes. We believe the way, in which we are conducting it at the moment right across, all of the multi-national divisions, is the way forward. It is the best way of doing it. I have said that to Chief Prosecutor del Ponte on a number of occasions. But, can I use this opportunity here in Sarajevo to say that the responsibility for turning indictees is not only a responsibility for SFOR. It is a responsibility of the government of this country and indeed of the various entities in this country, as they are obliged to do so under the Dayton Accord. It is also a responsibility for people in this country to give information to the authorities to allow these people to be arrested. There will be no lasting peace in the Balkans until those who have been responsible for some of the most horrific violence in generations do not eventually face the fair trial that they will get in The Hague. So every single person who wants to live in peace and security and to bring up their children in an atmosphere where ethnic hatred does not turn to ethnic killing have got an equal responsibility to General Dodson and me to make sure that these people face a trial in the Hague. I make that appeal today to every single person in Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you know any information or you know of any of these people, tell the authorities, turn them in and in doing so you will make your country safer and better.

Nerminka Emric - RTV BiH - You spoke with members of the BiH Presidency today. You used to do this before, however, we are aware of the facts in the field, as you said, we have three armies, two entities, and one country. Speaking about the armies, what is your opinion, when will the integration of the armies in BiH take place? Can you comment on the current situation in the armies? We hear one official story but the situation in the field is the same as ten years ago.

Lord Robertson - When I speak to the Tri-Presidency I often hear things that I have heard before. I also hear things that are changing and are different. I heard today of the fact that the Council of Ministers are being strengthened and that three new ministries have been created that is progress. I heard that the common defence policy has now been agreed and will go soon to the Council of Ministers and I urged the Tri-Presidency to ensure that it did so in the most speedy way possible. It must make sense and be strong enough to make the changes. I heard today that the standing committee on military matters which co-ordinates all these activities with the help of SFOR, is going to have an increased secretariat and that is good news, because up to now it has been too weak, too badly served and the subject of endless delays and cancellations. So, if that is going to happen then that too is good news. I believe that there is a growing realisation that the current structure of military forces is just a grotesque waste of money, that is going to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina from joining in European institutions and that therefore the movement towards a unified commanded and control structure is becoming ever more obvious and I will encourage it and urge it every time that I come here as well. What is also absolutely vital is greater transparency and openness about the finances of the armed forces. How much of the Bosnian taxpayers money is being spent on these different armies, and where is that money coming from? I believe if people knew how much it was costing them they would be less tolerant of maintaining the existing structures. So I see some progress, I have got assurances, General Dodson is here on a day-by-day basis to monitor these assurances and that progress, and I will not stop reminding the government of this country of how important all of these projects are to the future of this country.

Antonio Prlenda - Oslobojenje - Representatives of the OSCE in Sarajevo recently suggested an even more radical reduction on the entity armed forces, 50% of troops during next year. Do you support such a radical reduction in such a relatively short period?

Lord Robertson - I have told you what I am recommending and that is a unified command and control as a first step, a unified military doctrine, and a common defence policy. These are the first steps that need to be taken. Reductions will ultimately be necessary, if affordable armed forces are going to be put in place, but I want to see the first steps taken before we move on to what will be necessary but more ambitious steps later on. But later on does not mean in ten years time, later on means in the quite near future.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).