Air Date: April 9, 1996||
Barbara Francis, US spokesperson,
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Susan Woodward, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON, host: This is Common Ground.
VLADIMIR MATIC, former Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia: There is no military imbalance in Bosnia. As a matter of fact, military balance
in Bosnia was achieved during last summer. And this is what made the Dayton peace agreement
DAVIDSON: The first stage of settlement efforts in Bosnia are complete says the
five-nation contact group. And now that the warring parties are essentially separated, we’ll hear
about the next steps to rebuilding Bosnia on this edition of Common Ground.
SUSAN WOOWARD, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution: Will people begin to feel that
without the protection of some army, either theirs or NATO, that they have to leave and find
safety in the area of their nationality? Then we really have destroyed Bosnia even worse than the
war. So I worry a great deal about the consequences of doing this too fast on the people
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
Sixty thousand NATO troops are now a third of the way through their one-year peace mission in
Bosnia. The implementation force, or I-4, is in place to oversee the Dayton peace agreement
signed last summer by the warring Serbs, Croats, and Muslims. With me to talk about the fragile
peace in Bosnia are Susan Woodward, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Vladimir
Matic, a former ambassador to the United States from Yugoslavia, who resigned from the Yugoslav
Foreign Ministry in June 1993 and has since been living in the United States. Both Matic and
Woodward agree that the Dayton peace agreement is only a starting point in the road to rebuilding
the former Yugoslavia. I asked Ambassador Matic whether he believes it is a just agreement.
MATIC: I don’t think any agreement in Bosnia right now can be just. A just agreement
could be reached only in theory and, even then, never imposed in practice. But to mention just
one element for your listeners who would judge about the justice of that agreement or any other
agreement for that sake, Bosnia had at the beginning of the war 4.6 million people. Now about a
million of them are refugees outside of Bosnia, up to the number of 2.8 million. The rest are
refugees within Bosnia. Actually about 60 percent of the Bosnian inhabitants were uprooted; and
if the agreement is not implemented in its entirety (which is highly improbable), most of them
will never be able to get back to their homes and continue their lives.
WOODWARD: There’s a lot of discussion about whether this is a just agreement, whether its
a just peace. I don’t think agreements ever are just; that’s not what their character is. Justice
is provided by people for other people by governments above all. What we really need to do is to
try to help the Bosnians in their difficult end of the war to recreate the capacity to provide
justice for each other. That is to say, a legal system that guarantees individual rights and
human rights to people regardless of where they live and what their background is; an opportunity
for people to work through the legal system to get what they might otherwise take out in blood
feud of revenge of the horrors that many of them have been exposed to in the course of the war;
and the people on all sides can feel that.
By focusing too much on the agreement, which is after all, as I said earlier, simply a bargain—a
political compromise—in order to get the war to stop and start the next stage of recreating life
and society in Bosnia, whatever it looks like. We forget that what we demand of ourselves is what
we should demand of them; namely, that we provide a country, a government, a just system on the
ground. That’s what will produce justice or not.
DAVIDSON: Also joining us in this discussion is Barbara Francis, the US spokesperson for
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is working in Bosnia. Barbara Francis,
now what exactly is the mandate of UNHCR?
BARBARA FRANCIS: This is the first time we’ve ever worked in a war zone. We were created
in 1951 to take care of refugees who by definition have crossed a border. But more and more these
days we’re taking care of displaced people, because there’s such a great need. We were called
into Bosnia by…
DAVIDSON: Those are people who are within their own country, but there’s still a conflict
FRANCIS: Right. A displaced person is someone who’s been forced to flee his or her home,
has not crossed a border, is not protected by international legal instruments, and often is still
in conflict areas. Sometimes humanitarian aid workers cannot even get to them. So we have an
enormous population there. We’re beginning this spring to bring the displaced home first, because
a lot of them are living in really appalling collective centers. We’d like to get them out of
there. We have a big problem with housing now.
DAVIDSON: At what rate are they going home? Are people going home, and do they feel safe
FRANCIS: Out of the two million, we’ve reckoned by our field office and in talking to
authorities in municipalities, since the peace agreement was signed about 30,000-40,000 people
have spontaneously returned; and we plan a formal repatriation operation. We’re just waiting for
the snow to melt and the weather to break. We reckon in 1996 that we can possibly return or
relocate a half a million people, if we’re lucky.
DAVIDSON: We’re talking in late March, so barring any major problems you foresee in the
spring when the weather gets better…
FRANCIS: Just in the next couple of weeks, we think so. We’re going to get the major
portion of them home between probably now and mid-September when the elections are held. We think
if people don’t go home by then, they’ll wait until the elections are over to see what happens.
DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, what is your feeling about people returning home?
WOODWARD: The difficulty is if too many people want to return before the conditions are
either safe from snipers or potential conflict arising of some kind, but also just safe in the
physical sense of having a house, a roof over your shoulders. Then you create another
humanitarian crisis that is manmade and we are responsible for, because we would be pushing it
too fast. There are, in my view, a number of problems. Then I would like to ask her version, in
the sense that the elections [that] the Dayton agreement says must happen between six and nine
months after the signing of the agreement in December, which means that by September 14 elections
must take place at the local level and at the county level and at the national [level]—or, as
they would call it, union level—for offices. That means most local government officials are
thinking about people returning to their town or city or village in terms of voters. If they
calculate that people of a different nationality are coming back and might vote against them, why
should they let them back before September? Yet, the Dayton agreement says that people must be
able to go home, meaning their homes before the war in 1991, to vote.
So first of all there’s a real conflict in the political conditions of people returning. The
second one is the one I wanted to ask Barbara about, which is this effort that UNHCR has made
very carefully to stage the return so that it can work and people can find housing and so forth.
One of the threats to this is not the displaced persons within Bosnia but the many refugees in
countries elsewhere, particularly in northern Europe—Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and
so forth—where countries want to get rid of these refugees. Let’s put it quite bluntly. They
say, “We’ve had them too long. There’s too much straining our welfare budgets. They have to
leave,” and UNHCR’s been saying that, “But at the moment, those people have better conditions
than people in Bosnia. Will you please wait until we at least settle the displaced within
Bosnia?” At the moment my understanding, Germany in particular, is not being very accommodating
and has said no matter what we say, what the conditions are, they will begin expelling the
hundreds of thousands of refugees from Bosnia in Germany back home by June. This could create a
very serious problem. I wonder what she says about that.
MATIC: May I interrupt you just for a second. The so-called internal and external
refugees are basically in the same position. Whether a Bosnia refugee is in Canada, Australia,
the United States or can see his house from the top of the hill but cannot cross that line in
between, to him it doesn’t make any difference.
DAVIDSON: He can’t go home.
MATIC: He cannot get home. So the situation on the ground has to be changed and those
people allowed to get home. What Dr. Woodward said is quite correct. Those who are in power are
certainly not interested to get them back. After all, why have they been waging ethnic cleansing
with a war and conducting the ethnic cleansing for three-and-a-half years to get them now and
allow them back and be outvoted.
DAVIDSON: What obstacles are they putting in their way?
MATIC: They simply don’t allow them. The number of refugees in Bosnia was increased by
some 50,000-60,000 only in the past two weeks, Serbs from the suburbs of Sarajevo. This was
another victory for national intolerance and for all those in Bosnia, the ethnic leaders who have
been waging the war.
FRANCIS: Let me say something about return and relocation. This is the most complex, most
challenging operation that UNHCR has waged in its 45-year history. We know that. We’re writing
the book on it as we go along, just as we wrote the book on humanitarian effort as we went along,
now having worked in a war zone. But in a flurry of shuttle diplomacy, we are stressing to all
parties concerned—the governments of western Europe, the donor governments, the organizing
governments, the NATO peace agreement, or any return that we have anything to do with—we’re
urging it to be gradual, phased, orderly, and voluntary. The key word here is also voluntary.
We’re not taking anybody home who doesn’t want to go home, and we don’t even know where that is.
We’re stressing to the governments, in western Europe especially, that there be some sort of
absentee vote system. I do not work in an organization that organizes elections; and I don’t know
how feasible this is, but you can’t say to someone who’s not ready to go home yet, “You have to
go home and vote.” They may not want to do that. People are going to go home if they feel safe,
and we don’t even know if they’re going to go home when they feel safe.
WOODWARD: On that, if I can interrupt you for a moment, the absentee voting problem is
very serious; because it turns out that if refugees register to vote at home, that is in fact in
international law terms a declaration of an intent to return back to that city,
FRANCIS: Municipality or wherever.
WOODWARD: Or the country. Therefore, it means that they lose their refugee status in the
country that they’re now currently given sanctuary. So they cannot protect the refugees from
being kicked out early by governments who say, “Well you voted, you belong in Bosnia.”
FRANCIS: Could it be that we’re looking at a large group of people who will not vote,
because they’ll look at their safety first? That’s possibly what we may be looking at.
WOODWARD: Yes. I think that’s right.
DAVIDSON: You’re listening to Common Ground, a program on world affairs sponsored
by the Stanley Foundation. My guests today are Barbara Francis from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees who’s just returned from Bosnia; Vladimir Matic, the former Assistant
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He’s now an
international consultant in Columbia, South Carolina. And my other guest is Susan Woodward, a
Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. We’re talking about the problems for refugees and the
future for the former Yugoslavia.
The Stanley Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to promote thought and
dialogue about the world. Tapes of Common Ground programs are available. At the end of the
broadcast I’ll give you information on how to order.
How much of an obstacle is the fact that the NATO troops are only there at the current time until
December? Does that mean there are a lot of refugees out there that feel like that’s worrisome?
FRANCIS: Yes. It worries us a lot. We’re obviously considering the possibility that
people aren’t going to go back, because they’re going to wait and see what’s going to happen once
the I-4 troops pull out.
WOODWARD: Another thing that’s worth noting about this 12-month limit on the military
aspects of Dayton, is the implementation force (I-4) that are there are there only to do the
military tasks—separate armies, get them back into barracks, demobilize many soldiers, force
heavy weapons either to be destroyed or to be placed in barracks and under control. While all of
these other tasks—civilian tasks, resettlement as we’ve talked about with the refugee
organizations, economic reconstruction—the elections are not to be done by the military forces.
However, all those other tasks require a sense of some physical and psychological security for
people to do them. The only instrument for that security is the presence of these NATO troops. If
people think that at the end of 12 months when the military leaves that war will start, then
they’re going to be acting now not as we want them to, to sustain the peace, to end the war, but
about what they think they will have to do at the end when NATO leaves, when the NATO forces
leave and maybe prepare for war again.
The consequences of that rapidity, that speed for rebuilding a multi-ethnic Bosnia and reassuring
people that they can live together, is disastrous. Will people begin to feel that without the
protection of some army, either theirs or NATO, that they have to leave to find safety in the
area of their nationality? Then we really have destroyed Bosnia even worse than the war. So I
worry a great deal about the consequences of doing this too fast for the people psychologically.
DAVIDSON: Ambassador Matic, what’s your view of this 12-month time limit on the NATO
MATIC: This is exactly that other direction of developments which is possible based on
the Dayton peace agreement. This is the consolidation of the division of Bosnia and absolute
ethnic cleansing because those were the finishing touches only in Sarajevo. We now have probably
fewer than 150,000 Bosnians living in some other ethnic area. So it is very possible that during
this year this process will be finished, and it will result in the division of Bosnia. It might
prove, although it was certainly not the intention of anyone participating in the process (I’m
talking about the western alliance) that the Dayton agreement will lead to the formation of three
states and the incorporation of two of them into neighboring states (that is Serbia and Croatia).
DAVIDSON: There was just a report…
MATIC: Let me add just one more sentence. I don’t believe this will be conducted by
another flare-up of armed conflicts and a war in Bosnia. I believe that everybody there will be
careful to avoid that. After waging the war for three-and-a-half years, ethnically they’ll use
WOODWARD: May I disagree with that a bit. I don’t agree with those people in Europe who
say that when NATO leaves the war will resume again. Or if you hear in Washington the people who
say, “Well, yes, but the war will resume again; and if that’s what these people want, then that’s
what they should get.” In other words the sense that we can only do 12-months’ work for them and
if they are bound to fight they are bound to fight, because it’s in their blood. I don’t agree
with that at all. I agree with you, Ambassador Matic, that the process, not necessarily intended,
but the process of implementing this agreement on the ground is leading to more partition and
more consolidation of three separate, basically one party, ethnically homogeneous units that are
aimed toward being separate states. If you have three separate states in Bosnia Herzegovina—one
Serb, one Croat, one Muslim—maybe the Serbs and Croats will go off and join their neighboring
motherlands in Serbia and Croatia.
MATIC: In time. Somewhere along the road. Not necessarily immediate.
WOODWARD: Not necessarily immediately. In the meantime if the three sets of leaders of
those three states are thinking in terms of creating defensible states and then if we look at the
map created at Dayton there are still some very important points that are unresolved, territories
that are unresolved. There are certain areas that are where absolutely crucial communication
lines for one unit is controlled in part by another unit. So that we won’t necessarily have an
eruption of full-scale war. But for very important strategic purposes of the survival, in their
mind, of their state, each of the three, there will be certain places, the Buricko corridor, the
road between Sarajevo and Bihac, the road from Trevina up to Sarajevo, that each one—the Serb
area, the Croat area, the Muslim area—of them has yet unresolved territorial issues if they
think of themselves not as a part of one country of states. And I say this strongly; because if
we could see the direction that the NATO implementation is going, we could say, all right, we
have to admit that in some ways we made too many mistakes. At this point we may not be able to
bring Bosnia together, but we can prevent another war by helping them resolve by diplomatic means
these yet unresolved territorial issues.
DAVIDSON: What is your view of the argument that the military imbalance needs to be
addressed and arming [the Bosnian Muslims]?
WOODWARD: My own view is that three armies don’t make one country. If you are equipping
and training one army, and we say the federation army; but as Ambassador Matic said the
federation is a paper, a piece of paper, it doesn’t exist. If we are equipping and training one
of three armies, we are assuming that they are a separate state. If we really want, for the sake
of the Muslims in Bosnia, to give them Bosnia Herzegovina as their country, just like the Croats
and Serbs have neighboring country, we should not be spending our scarce resources on giving them
an army to fight the Serbs and Croats. We should be giving them lots and lots of money to rebuild
economically that country where they can then talk about ways of cooperating with people who were
enemies for a while.
MATIC: I couldn’t agree more with that, but I would start from another point. There is no
military imbalance in Bosnia. As a matter of fact, military balance in Bosnia was achieved during
last summer. And this is what made the Dayton peace agreement possible. The distribution of land
they control before Dayton started was about 50-50, because the Serbs were holding a little bit
more than 70 percent maybe on August 1. Forty days later [they] had less than 50 percent. The
combination of the forces of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, supported by the Croatian
army—and quite well with the aircrafts and tanks—is more than a balance for the army of Bosnian
Serbs. So exactly the balance on the ground made the Dayton agreement possible.
I would go on from that and say that maybe flare-ups are possible but very, very much localized,
more the sort of incidents but not a new war. The Bosnian Serbs and their leaders in Belgrade
know quite well that this new war would not be like the one they waged; that they will have
against them not only the Bosnian Muslims and the Croatian army but NATO and the United States.
They’re quite well aware of that, and they could not stand it.
The Bosnian Muslims know if they start the war, if they are the ones who renounce the agreement,
they will have no assistance; and they’re finished. The Croats in Bosnia have, I guess, more than
they dreamed they will have in the end, so they have no incentive to start that.
DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, do you agree that there is no longer a military imbalance on
WOODWARD: Yes. I agree with that. The problem now is, in fact, that for those people who
worry about military balance were largely focused on whether the Bosnian Muslims can defend
themselves against a potential attack from either the Serbs or the Croats. The real problem is
that their own position depends entirely on support from the Bosnian Croats and particularly from
Croatia. We know very well from the statements of the Croatian government, and from the problems
with the federation between Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims, that if the Bosnian Muslims
increase their military capacity from where they are now and maybe even enter into new conflicts,
but certainly even just increase their capacity, that then they really have lost the alliance and
the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims cannot win alone. They really have a much greater problem in
my view from what the Croatian government calls its own security interests in Bosnia.
DAVIDSON: I want to spend the last couple of minutes talking about the War Crimes
Tribunal, because that has gotten so much attention internationally. But I’d like to know, and
perhaps Barbara Francis you could address this, how important in the people you talk with, the
refugees, is the War Crimes Tribunal in ending this war? In Bosnia itself, do they view this as
an important element?
FRANCIS: I think they’d like a sense of justice. I just came back from there; and I was
in a few towns where people have come back, and they see what’s happened. They’ve lost relatives.
They’ve been ethnically cleansed. They have a sense of outrage. I think that it’s necessary for
it to even begin, even if… I hesitate to use the word reconciliation, but I’d like to hear the
views of my colleagues.
MATIC: I believe that we cannot talk about resurrection of Bosnia and stabilization there
without dealing properly with the war crimes. By dealing properly, I would give an example from
the second world war. The nations of Yugoslavia lived after that for more than 50 years in peace
and relative prosperity. What made it possible? The perpetrators of these crimes, if they did not
withdraw with the occupying armies, the Germans and others, were tried and sentenced. What is
even more important, they were condemned by the public, by everybody, and that made it possible
for those belonging to the families of the victims and to families of those who committed the
crimes to be neighbors again. The crimes were not attributed to the nation from which the
perpetrators come; they were attributed to the ideology of Nazism, which was condemned and dealt
with properly. This is what Bosnia needs now if we are talking about any future for all the
people there. This is something they themselves have to do. If you take individuals to The Hague,
and especially if it can be presented that they are abducted, you’ll make martyrs out of them,
instead of exposing their crimes. It has to be a sort of self soul cleansing process for all of
the Bosnians. This is the only way to the future for the people in Bosnia.
DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward, I’ll give you the last word on the War Crimes Tribunal.
WOODWARD: I agree completely with what Ambassador Matic just said, especially the fact
that it’s in The Hague and feels imposed as the way Ambassador Matic has suggested. It’s
perceived by some people to be a continuing part of the retribution against some people and not
others. In other words, part of continuing of the collective assignment of guilt rather than the
individual accountability of people for their crimes. Therefore, there is probably going to be
needed exactly this kind of supplementary process coming from within for Bosnians themselves to
talk about how they are going to deal openly with discussing what has happened over the last four
or five years, having truth commissions and a discussion of it the way we found in South Africa
and Argentina and other places that it worked better than simply criminal trials. And ways in
which people can, in a sense, take back their own history and create it as they’re going now
rather than having the outside world decide who was right and who was wrong. The process in The
Hague is really more for people on the outside. It’s for the international community to say,
“Well we didn’t act early enough to prevent this but at least we can say what we do not accept in
DAVIDSON: Susan Woodward has been my guest on Common Ground. She’s a Senior Fellow
in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. We also heard from Barbara Francis,
spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Vladimir Matic, former
Assistant Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He resigned
from the post in 1993 and now lives in the United States. For Common Ground, I’m Mary Gray
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