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Imperfect Peace Dogs US in Bosnia

US to war criminals: 'Cooperate or face the consequences'

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MANY Serbs venerate Yugoslav Army Lt. Col. Veselin Slivancanin as a hero for helping direct the brutal 1991 siege of the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar. In the latest tribute, a Belgrade firm last week is reported to have honored him with the gift of an expensive German sports car.

To the International War Crimes Tribunal, however, Colonel Slivancanin should be tried as a mass murderer. The tribunal last month indicted him and two other senior officers for allegedly executing more than 200 Croat prisoners seized from Vukovar Hospital as the city fell. Slivancanin is accused of stalling human rights officials at the hospital's entrance while the Croats were led out the back door to a nearby pig farm and shot.

But whether these or any other combatants allegedly involved in Europe's worst atrocities since the Holocaust will ever stand trial remains uncertain, despite the agreement to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina reached on Nov. 21 in Dayton, Ohio.

Many human rights observers are skeptical. They wonder if the sides will surrender suspects. None have yet done so. And they worry that the US and its European allies will renege on commitments to punish any side that fails to meet its Dayton undertaking to cooperate with the tribunal. Such action could jeopardize the peace plan and trigger reprisals against the 60,000 NATO troops, including 20,000 Americans, being deployed to enforce it.

But senior Clinton administration officials are vowing that the US will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the tribunal gets the cooperation it needs. That includes the reimposition of UN economic sanctions that were clamped until last week on Serbia, the sponsor of the Serb rebellions in Bosnia and Croatia.

"In the event there is noncompliance [with the tribunal], then economic and reconstruction assistance, access to the UN, and access to international financial institutions will be denied," said US Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck in an interview. "The signal is very, very clear: Cooperate or face the consequences."

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