Expelling War Criminals a 'Litmus Test' for Bosnian Serb Party, Entity

By Beth Kampschror | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The recent expulsion of the two most-wanted men in the Balkans from Bosnia's largest Serb political party is a "litmus test" for both the party and the Serb-controlled half of the country, said a spokesperson for Bosnia's top international official here today.

Both Bosnian Serb wartime political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic were expelled from the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) Monday when the party voted that members could not be wanted by the UN war crimes tribunal.

Karadzic founded the party in 1990. Both he and Mladic were indicted by the tribunal for genocide in 1995. Both remain at large.

"It's certainly a step forward," Patrik Volf, a spokesperson for top international envoy Wolfgang Petritsch said here Friday. "As far the SDS saying one thing and doing another, it is sure that it remains to be seen whether the SDS lives up to its commitments."

Those commitments, as per the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 war, include allowing refugee returns to the Bosnia's Serb half and accepting constitutional changes that would make Muslims and Croats constituent people in the entity. Dayton divided Bosnia into two highly autonomous entities, the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Muslim-Croat Federation.

"This is certainly a litmus test to the credibility of the SDS, but also to the RS in general, whether they are capable of embracing the constitutional court decision on the constituency of peoples, thereby making their entity a place of equality," Volf said.

Rhetoric from party leaders this week has suggested that a kinder, gentler RS is in order.

"The Republika Srpska must shake off its burden as an apartheid state and strive to offer other peoples and national minorities as much freedom as we demand for ourselves," said SDS chair Dragan Kalinic Monday.

Volf, however, said that the party had been promising since at least January 2000 to promote ethnic tolerance, refugee returns and to allow reconstruction of Croat and Muslim cultural and religious sites.

"What we have made clear to the SDS leadership is that they have to comply with Dayton, they have to comply with the promises they gave to (Petritsch) last year," he said.

The RS is now the only part of the Balkans that has not turned over war crimes suspects to the UN tribunal.

Volf said while refugee returns to the entity have occurred, the numbers are far lower than those the international community would like to see. Two ceremonies to rebuild mosques razed in Serb-controlled towns during the war were scuttled by violent riots earlier this year.

"In some areas we have seen some action, in some areas we have seen insufficient or very little action," he said.

Petritsch, who oversees Dayton's civilian aspects, warned RS leaders twice in the past month that their entity could disappear if they do not comply with Dayton and push through constitutional changes.

"I think that only through reforms does the RS have a chance to survive in the next couple of years, otherwise the international community will abolish it," he told Sarajevo television Dec. 12.