ICG Bosnia Project, September 4, 1997
With this agreement, SFOR surrendered to Karadzic loyalists the Udrigovo (near Bijeljina) TV transmission tower, which SFOR had secured on 28 August during a take-over attempt by police loyal to President Biljana Plavsic. A mob of some 150 civilians loyal to Karadzic had been taunting the SFOR troops guarding the tower. This capitulation to mob violence, especially after the blunders in Brcko and Doboj last Thursday, encourages those loyal to Karadzic to believe that mob violence and terrorism against the international community pays off.
In exchange for this capitulation, Karadzic loyalists agreed that the RS media would "refrain from making inflammatory reporting (sic) against SFOR and international organisations", SRT (Pale TV) would "regularly provide one hour of programming during prime time each day without exception, during which other political views will be aired", SRT would "provide Ambassador Westendorp 1/2 hour during prime time ... to introduce himself and explain the events which took place in Brcko, Bijeljina and Banja Luka", and the RS would "participate in a full and consistent manner in a Media Support Advisory Group conducted by OHR to discuss and regulate the work of the media in accordance with the spirit and the letter" of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA).
Nothing in the vaguely drafted agreement obligates SRT or other media in the RS to stop inflammatory statements against Bosnians, including non-Serb voters who intend to cast their ballots there, opposition political parties and independent and non-Serb candidates for the municipal elections. The agreement merely aims to protect SFOR and the international community from inflammatory statements. Moreover, nothing in the agreement obligates the RS media to refrain from reporting biased or blatantly false information.
The agreement was entered into "as per coordination between" Principal Deputy High Representative Jacques Klein and member of the Bosnian Presidency Momcilo Krajisnik. After OHR's recommendation in April 1997 to isolate Krajisnik for his continued association with Radovan Karadzic and limit all contacts with him to "essential business related to his function as a member of the Presidency", it is baffling that the Principal Deputy High Representative would negotiate such an agreement with Krajisnik. Even if Krajisnik were acting on behalf of the SRT as Chair of its governing board, the negotiation with him cannot be justified, and undermines the authority of the Banja Luka leadership of the RS and the credibility of the international community. Adding insult to injury, the agreement was also signed by the Deputy Minister of the Interior, an individual deeply implicated in corruption and who, in the past, has refused to co-operate with the international community.
The agreement is all the more egregious as the OSCE and its Media Experts Commission (MEC) appear to have been excluded from the negotiations. On 22 August, the MEC found the SRT in "continued and grave violation" of the electoral rules and regulations, in particular for factually inaccurate reporting, for refusing to provide the right of reply, and for inflammatory broadcasts in general. The MEC ordered SRT to refrain from violating the rules and regulations concerning the media, to broadcast statements from the UN and Senior Deputy High Representative Gerd Wagner in response to distorted reporting, and for the General Director of SRT to appear on 29 August before the MEC and account for the said violations. The MEC concluded that: "If SRT fails to adhere to these requests ..., the matter will be referred to the Election Appeals Sub-Commission (EASC) and OHR for further consideration." In the light of SRT's complete disregard of the MEC order, the OSCE and the MEC should have been a party to the negotiations and the provisions of the MEC order should have been incorporated in the agreement.
The 2 September agreement is a manifestation of the international community's disagreements and wavering position on the use of force to implement fundamental provisions of the DPA. On 11 July, the ICG wholeheartedly welcomed the SFOR move against two suspects in Prijedor indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity, a move which at the time appeared to signal a renewed international commitment to the more difficult provisions of the DPA. Since then, despite consistent rhetoric from international leaders promising further arrests of indictees and dire consequences for those who harboured individuals indicted for war crimes, the international community has hesitated and wasted invaluable time before the municipal elections. Had the international community immediately built on the Prijedor action, Karadzic's and his loyalists' stranglehold on power and the media would have been broken, the rule of law strengthened in the RS, and the municipal elections could have proceeded without the Karadzic-led SDS being capable of disrupting the process. The 2 September agreement has further jeopardised the municipal elections.
The damaging consequences of this agreement to the municipal elections and the rule of law in the RS can be limited and possibly reversed if the international community takes urgent remedial measures. The ICG recommends the following:
The ICG is mindful that, if sanctions are levied against the SDS, there would be an increased risk to international supervisors, observers, and other staff deployed in the RS during the municipal elections. However, the credibility of these elections and the ability of RS voters to choose municipal leaders in a minimally free poll on 13-14 September are doubtful in the light of repeated and blatant violations as well as serious intimidation by the SDS. SFOR's capitulation with the 2 September agreement is an additional signal that the RS voter favouring the rule of law cannot expect protection from the international community. Under the circumstances, the wisdom of proceeding with the municipal elections in the RS as scheduled must be reconsidered.
Sarajevo, 4 September 1997
For further information, contact ICG in Sarajevo (Tel: 447 845).