CNN Mission: Peace

prisoner exchange

Prisoner release falls apart

Bosnian government demands accounting for 25,000 missing

January 15, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) bomb

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- A plan to start releasing hundreds of prisoners held by Bosnia's three former warring sides appeared to collapse Monday. More than 900 prisoners held by Bosnia's Serb, Croat and government armies were to have been set free before this Friday's deadline, set down in Bosnia's peace plan. But the biggest prisoner exchange of Bosnia's fragile peace was scrapped when the Bosnian government insisted on knowing what happened to nearly 25,000 people it lists as missing.

In another setback, IFOR, the NATO peace implementation force, said Friday's deadline for removing or tagging land mines in the demilitarized zone of Sarajevo cannot be met. One IFOR source said, "The best we shall manage is 80 percent demining."

'The parties are not complying'


Before the prisoner swap fell apart, Bosnian Croats gathered 212 captives near the southwestern city of Mostar, planning to release them to the Bosnian Serbs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said. The Bosnian government's stance was expected to put off releases planned for Tuesday in the northern town of Gracanica, and the capital, Sarajevo.

 bosnia map

Only nine prisoners of war have been freed, said ICRC's Jacques De Maio. "The parties are not complying," he said. Officials with IFOR had expected some 500 Serbs to be freed in northern Bosnia, in two exchanges near Banja Luka and around Sanski Most. But the Bosnian government said none of the Serbs it holds will be exchanged until the Serbs say what happened to the missing government men.

Missing = Dead ?

old mine

Only 4,000 of the missing are thought to be prisoners, according to Amor Masovic, the Bosnian government official charged with overseeing prisoner of war exchanges. The fate of others is not known. They include thousands of Muslim men missing since the Serbs overran the U.N. "safe area" of Srebrenica in July. Most of the men are believed to have been killed.

The missing also include thousands of people who disappeared in the spring and summer of 1992 as the Serbs swept through northern Bosnia, expelling, imprisoning and killing Muslims. The huge number of missing has fed suspicions of unidentified mass graves. Last week, reports surfaced that Serbs may be hiding up to 8,000 bodies in mine shafts in Ljubija in northwestern Bosnia.

In other developments Monday:


--President Franjo Tudjman, announcing that Croatia's "period of war is over," promised to demobilize the Croatian army, integrate the nation into European economic structures and pave the way for foreign investors. But he warned that eastern Slavonia must be "peacefully integrated (into Croatia) to avoid renewed bloodshed." Eastern Slavonia is the last Serb-held region in Croatia. According to U.N. estimates, some 80,000 Serb refugees from Croatia and Bosnia are currently in eastern Slavonia.

--Serb police were holding a Bosnian Croat man they accuse of war crimes. "There is a clause in the Dayton agreement that if anybody is reasonably suspected of war crimes, then they are entitled to be held," an IFOR spokesman said. Zvonomir Djordic was one of four Bosnian Croat men arrested last week when a car was stopped at a Serb checkpoint on the main Tuzla-Orasje road in northern Bosnia. Bosnian Serbs claim Djordic had "personally led Bosnian Croat militia attacks" against northern Serb-held villages near Brcko, which fell to the Moslem Federation during the war.

--Sarajevo Serbs continued a desperate rush to ferry out their belongings before their areas revert to Bosnian government control. The narrow road leading from Serb-held suburbs up Mount Trebevic was jammed with dilapidated trucks, cars and tractors piled with chairs, tables, bedding and other household items. Some Serbs are paying the equivalent of $700 to hire a truck for a day. The Bosnian government is due to take control of the Serb areas on Friday, and by mid-March government soldiers will be permitted to enter.

--American military personnel serving in Bosnia can set up a radio station on Serb territory as long as they broadcast "good jazz," Bosnian Serb Vice President Nikola Koljevic was quoted as saying. Koljevic said IFOR commander Adm. Leighton Smith had asked permission to set up a radio station for U.S. troops in Banja Luka, northern Bosnia. "I told him that the question could be solved at once, on condition that this radio broadcasts good jazz music, and that I will personally judge its quality in my capacity as (Bosnian Serb) vice president and former jazz pianist," Koljevic was quoted by the Belgrade press as saying.


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