February 10, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EST (0245 GMT)
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- In a sudden turnaround, Bosnian Serb political leaders reportedly expressed their willingness to restore ties with NATO peacekeeping forces hours after the Bosnian government freed four of some eight detained Bosnian Serbs.
According to The Associated Press, Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic told a special session of the Serbs' self-styled cabinet Saturday that his government wanted to cooperate fully with NATO forces, and that it did not wish to jeopardize the peace process.
Senior Serb officials at the session told AP that Kasagic was reading from a statement prepared by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. It was unclear whether the Bosnian Serb military would go along with the political leaders' decision.
Earlier this week, the Bosnian Serb army declared that until all detainees were freed, they would suspend top-level contacts with NATO peacekeeping forces. Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who was behind the directive, has been indicted as a war criminal by a U.N. tribunal.
Mladic assured the commander in Bosnia, U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, in a recent letter that "Bosnian Serbs do not want any conflict with NATO," an IFOR official said.
Two top Bosnian Serbs, General Djordje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic, are among the unspecified number of Serbs still in the custody of the Bosnian government.
The government had earlier contended it would continue to hold Djukic, Krsmanovic, and other Serbs pending further investigations by the International War Crimes Tribunal.
Bosnian Serb leaders have said they regard the detention as "a flagrant violation of the peace accord."
The release of some prisoners, however, appeared to soften the Bosnian Serbs' stand. The four released prisoners crossed into the Serb-held sector of Sarajevo soon after dusk Saturday.
Saturday's announcement restoring relations with NATO came just hours before Richard Holbrooke, the top U.S. mediator for Bosnia, was to arrive in Sarajevo in an attempt to defuse the crisis.
Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton peace plan, has described the current impasse as the most serious since the pact was signed two months ago.
The cutoff of contacts threatened to disrupt many plans, including negotiations on prisoner exchanges and the demarcation of buffer zones -- important elements of the two-month-old peace agreement which ended nearly four years of war in Bosnia.
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