February 14, 1996
Web posted at: 9:10 a.m. EST (1410 GMT)
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Contacts between NATO and senior Bosnian Serb army officers are "non-existent," and Bosnian Serb liaison officers are "packing their bags," a NATO spokesman said Wednesday.
"At the most senior level the relations are non-existent," said Col. John Kirkwood. "At lower levels, contacts are spotty. We have evidence that Bosnian Serb liaison officers are packing their bags and departing from some locations."
Kirkwood's statement was the most definitive word on the status of contacts since February 8 when Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic announced that relations with NATO were being severed because of the detention of two Bosnian Serb army officers.
The officers, Gen. Djordje Djukic and Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, were extradited to the Hague on Monday.
By severing contacts with NATO's peacekeeping force, known as IFOR, the Bosnian Serb army has committed a "serious violation" of the Dayton peace agreement, IFOR officials said Wednesday.
The peace plan divides Bosnia into a Serb republic and a federation of Muslims and Croats. Sarajevo is to go to the Muslim-Croat federation.
"The last official contact with the VRS (Bosnian Serb army) was midday last Thursday," said IFOR spokesman Maj. Mark Rayner. The IFOR command is "concerned that the situation does not worsen."
Gen. Sir Michael Walker, the commander in charge of IFOR peacekeepers, has been engaged "in a serious and intense effort" since the beginning of the boycott " to persuade the VRS at all levels to resume a dialogue." Rayner said.
Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic Wednesday called the extradition "yet another international shame."
"I believe the freedom of movement has been most affected by this, let alone living together, which will not be possible if the international community continues to look favorably on Muslim provocations while the Muslims continue to nurture hate against Bosnian Serbs," said Karadzic, who himself has been indicted for crimes by the U.N. tribunal.
Karadzic said Bosnian Serbs were maintaining relations with IFOR. He added that all contacts with the Muslim-Croat federation have been suspended, yet he didn't want to sever ties completely.
Fearing possible retaliation, the NATO-led peace force closed its liaison office in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale on Tuesday. NATO officials also said a NATO building in the Serb-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidjza was hit by a rifle-propelled grenade shortly after the two Serbs were flown to the Hague. Nobody was wounded, the officials said.
The two officers at the center of the controversy were flown by NATO from a Sarajevo prison to the U.N. war crimes tribunal detention unit in the Netherlands on Monday. Neither man has been indicted by the tribunal, but both are under investigation.
Kirkwood's comments made clear that Mladic, despite having twice been indicted by the U.N. tribunal, remains in control of his forces. NATO sources say the Serb general holds a tight grip on the army's senior ranks and that the withdrawal of Serb liaison officers from NATO locations shows that Mladic's orders are filtering down to lower levels.
The news casts doubt on the future of the Dayton peace accord. Under the peace plan, Karadzic and Mladic are required to step down.
In other Bosnia-related news, bus service was re-established Wednesday between the Serb-held Ilidjza suburb and the rest of Sarajevo for the first time since the war began. By late morning, the lone bus between the two areas was carrying close to its capacity. A U.S. soldier with an automatic rifle, helmet and flak jacket rode beside the driver.
And, in Kenton, Ohio, the first American killed in the Bosnian peacekeeping mission was buried Tuesday.
About 300 people attended the funeral to comfort the family of Army Sgt. 1st Class Donald A. Dugan, 38. He was killed when he picked up unexploded artillery after leaving his checkpoint and walking into a field. The explosive device went off in Dugan's hands, IFOR officials said.
The funeral took place 70 miles north of the base where negotiators signed the Dayton peace accord.
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