The Crimes Of Bosnia

A RECENT HUDDLE BEtween U.S. peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic illustrated a key problem of holding Balkans war-crimes trials. At one point in the meeting, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic complained he couldn't attend the upcoming peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, because of his indictment by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as a war criminal. "Mr. Karadzic," one of the American negotiators deadpanned, "you're welcome to come to the United States. And if you do, we'll arrest you."

In trying to shut down the Balkan crisis, the West has to sit across the peace table from at least two of the 42 Serbs indicted as war criminals--Karadzic and the Bosnian Serbs' top general, Ratko Mladie, without whose cooperation the war will grind on and on. Those two major players in the conflict may never come to trial for another reason: there are no clear Bosnian victors, as there were at Nuremberg, to force the vanquished to hand over suspects and bring them to justice. Plagued by financial problems, the tribunal is just getting underway, two years after its formation in The Hague. And it may be three years or more before the trial of the first suspect, alleged death-squad leader Dusan Tadic, is completed.

None of that matters, says one of the tribunal's two presiding judges, Gabrielle Kirk-McDonald, a former U.S. federal judge. "Success should not be measured in trying dozens and dozens of people," she argues. "Our success is that we're the first international tribunal to apply the [Nurem-berg principles] that have been on the books and not enforced for 50 years."

The problem of how to make peace in partnership with accused war criminals has plagued the Bosnian negotiations throughout. Many have assumed that Mladic and Karadzic would have to be granted an amnesty. But the tribunal's respected prosecutor, South African Judge Richard Goldstone, has insisted there would be no such tradeoffs; the U.N. Security Council created the tribunal as an independent body, and the United Nations' only control is on the purse strings.

American leaders, who are pushing negotiations in Bosnia, deny that any amnesty will be part of a peace deal. "There must be peace for justice to prevail, but there must be justice when peace prevails," President Clinton said recently. "The war-crimes tribunal does matter," said U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, who headed a Senate staff investigation of ethnic cleansing in Bosnian in 1992. "It's an inexorable process, it has its own dynamic and it is not negotiable."

But can high principles prevail over the horrifying reality of Bosnia, where fresh memories of atrocities hang over the recent ceasefire? In July General Mladic's forces--allegedly in his presence--massacred as many as 10,000 Muslims at Srebrenica. Then the Croats swept through Krajina, killing scores of elderly Serbs and pillaging and looting at will. (One Croat has been in-dieted for war crimes.) Serbs retaliated with a renewed campaign of ethnic cleansing in northern Bosnia this month; as a result, up to 3,000 Muslim men are feared dead or imprisoned in Serb concentration camps. Recently, Muslim and Croat disinterment teams dug up fresh graves of slaughtered civilians near Sanski Most, Bosnia and Petrinja, Croatia. The tribunal's job, someday, is to give a voice to those victims.

General Mladic is among the most notorious of the 43 Bosnians indicted for war crimes, including genocide:

Ratiovan Karadzic

 President of the Bosnian Serb republic

Gen. Ratko Mladic

 Commander in chief of the Bosnian Serb republic

Milo Stanisic

 Secret-police chief of the Bosnian Serbs

Dragan Nikolic

 Commandant of the Susica detention camp

Zelko Meakic

 Commandant of the Omarska detention camp