December 14, 1995
Web posted at: 10:10 a.m. EST (1510 GMT)
PARIS (CNN) -- A somber ceremony marked the official beginning of peace in the Balkans Friday as the presidents of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia signed a treaty to end three and a half years of war.
After signing the agreement negotiated last month in Dayton, Ohio, the Balkan presidents each expressed their hopes for a lasting peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has lost 200,000 citizens to the war. (595K QuickTime movie)
"The signing of this agreement is done in full sincerity on our part," said Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. Whether a unified Bosnia will emerge from the agreement, he said, "will depend on us and what we want to achieve."
"The key of the success of (the agreement's) mission is evenhandedness," said Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. "Evenhandedness is the basis on which the entire Dayton agreement is rested." (187K AIFF sound or 187K WAV sound)
Calling the agreement "a major stride forward," Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said, "All those taking part in this historic event must see to it that these peace efforts not be jeopardized."
The peace treaty signed Friday includes provisions to:
--Maintain Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single multi-ethnic state under a central democratic government.
--Divide the country into two regions: the Bosnian-Croat Federation and the Bosnia Serb Republic.
--Withdraw forces and weapons behind cease-fire lines
--Allow refugees to return to their homes
--Permit NATO to establish and maintain a peacekeeping force in Bosnia
--Prevent war criminals from holding office
The signing ceremony raised hope that Bosnia would not have to endure a fourth winter of war and could spend its first peaceful Christmas since 1991, though the risk remained that fighting could break out again in the war-torn country.
Indeed, even as the treaty was being signed at the Elysee Place in Paris, two anti-aircraft shells reportedly hit a hotel in Sarajevo. It was not immediately clear who fired the shells. There were no injuries reported at the hotel, where many international journalists stay.
To prevent such attacks from spoiling the peace and to ease Bosnia's transition, U.S. President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac and other NATO leaders committed 60,000 troops in the largest ground operation in NATO history. The force will include 20,000 U.S. troops.
After the signing, leaders of Europe, the United States and Russia who attended the ceremony offered words of encouragement to the Balkan leaders.
"It's now up to all of us to turn cease-fire into peace, to turn peace into a lasting settlement and the countries of former Yugoslavia into a stable and prosperous part of the European family," said British Prime Minister John Major. (298K AIFF sound or 298K WAV sound)
"Peace must be more than the absence of war," German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said, reminding those present at the ceremony of the work that lies ahead.
"True peace remains to be built in hearts and minds," said Chirac. "Let us then reach out to them a brotherly hand."
Clinton closed the ceremony, saying, "You have seen what war has wrought; you know what peace can bring. Seize this chance and make it work. You can do nothing to erase the past but you can do everything to build the future. Do not let your children down." (111K AIFF sound or 111K WAV sound)
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