Thu, 25 Jul 1996

Thank Holbrooke for Bosnian deal

Credit Richard Holbrooke with getting closer than anyone else has to protecting Bosnia's election from manipulation by Dr. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader indicted for war crimes.

Holbrooke, a veteran diplomat and architect of the Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war, returned from private life on a special assignment from President Clinton. To back up his persuasion, Holbrooke carried threats to ban Karadzic's party from participating in the elections and to reimpose economic sanctions on Serbia.

The American diplomat's unconventional mix of bullying and charm seems to be especially effective with Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's president and the key to this agreement. At Holbrooke's behest, Milosevic extracted from Karadzic a signed agreement to resign from all official positions and withdraw from public life.

Karadzic has broken agreements before. But Washington promises that his latest pledge will be monitored. The Bosnian government, frequently at the receiving end of Karadzic's duplicity in the past, accepts this new agreement as good enough to justify going ahead with the election campaign.

Holbrooke's mission showed how much can be achieved by muscular diplomacy, without the need to call on military force, and even with several European countries expressing doubts about renewing economic sanctions on Serbia. That lesson should be well digested by those like the chief European official in Bosnia, Carl Bildt, who have been willing to settle for much less from Milosevic and Karadzic.

What Holbrooke was not able to achieve at this time was to arrange Karadzic's departure from Bosnia, let alone deliver him to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to stand trial for his role in the massacre of Muslim civilians in Srebrenica and other atrocities during the 44-month Bosnian war. Meanwhile, those who will be taking over Karadzic's duties as president of the Bosnian Serb region and head of its powerful ruling party are considered his political puppets and share his hard-line separatist views.

But if Karadzic does keep his word, the Dayton peace agreement can proceed according to its originally agreed timetable. His separatist party may capture most of the seats in Serbian areas of Bosnia, but it presumably will not be allowed to get away with intimidating more conciliatory candidates or driving them from the race. In December, when NATO troops are scheduled to withdraw, Bosnia will not be whole, but it will be at peace, with the possibility of reunification at a later date preserved.

That is less than many Americans would want. But it corresponds precisely to the deal Holbrooke hammered out in Dayton last year. His diplomatic mission last week keeps that deal on track.

-- The New York Times

;JP;HPR; ANPAk..r.. Other-ASEAN-Times In defense of constructive engagement JP/4/OTHER3

In defense of constructive engagement

Now that Myanmar is an ASEAN observer, with the promise of full membership in two years, it is possible to look back with some amusement on the hype and the hysterics, and the postures struck by some Western spokesmen. Not for a moment is this to suggest that ASEAN should -- or did -- turn a blind eye to what Philippine Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon rightly described as a common commitment to "participatory democracy and respect for human rights". But the controversy that was quite unnecessarily created might recommend the need for a review of relations with a European Union (EU) whose agenda on a number of issues may not synchronize with ASEAN's priorities. Dissent may be the essence of debate, but there are situations, and this was one of them, when it can only distract attention and energy from more important matters at hand.

This summit and post-ministerial conference were path-breaking events. The inclusion of China and Russia as full dialogue partners recognized an Asia-Pacific reality; extension of the same status to India indicated formal acknowledgement of the beginnings of a synergistic partnership. Myanmar's eventual full membership, to be preceded by Laos and Cambodia, underscored the long-term vision of the ASEAN 10. Hardly could such a concept, of vital importance to millions of Asians, be allowed to be disrupted because the European Parliament had passed a resolution calling for sanctions against Myanmar. Strict adherence to the demand would have deprived even EU chairman Dick Spring of what he admitted was a "useful opportunity" for exchanging views with Myanmar Foreign Minister Ohn Gyaw.

Nothing, in fact, summed up the choice better than this episode. Either there is a dialogue, with its inherent scope of influencing attitudes and actions, or there is a boycott, which amounts to disclaiming all responsibility for present and future conditions. The latter course is hardly advisable for neighbors with so much at stake.

-- The Straits Times, Singapore