Mladic says Sarajevo Serbs won't submit to Bosnian government control

(c) Copyright 1995

Associated Press

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In his first public appearance since the Balkan peace accord, the Bosnian Serb military leader declared Saturday that Sarajevo Serbs would never submit to Bosnian government control.

Gen. Ratko Mladic repeated calls by the Bosnian Serb leadership for changes in the U.S.-mediated accord reached in Dayton, Ohio last month.

"We cannot allow our people to come under the rule of butchers," Mladic said, referring to the Muslims and Croats his troops fought for 3 1/2 years.

"A new and just solution, especially for Sarajevo, must be found," he said in a speech to mark the formation of a new Bosnian Serb army brigade.

Mladic's statement indicated he could become a key obstacle to implementing the agreement. It also bodes ill for the safety of the 60,000 NATO troops -- an estimated 20,000 from the United States -- being sent to enforce it.

U.S. officials have ruled out any changes to the agreement, which gives most of the Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs to the Muslim-Croat federation. The agreement is to be signed in Paris on Dec. 14.

Mladic was on the verge of tears and defiantly patriotic at the ceremony in Vlasenica, 50 miles northeast of Sarajevo. His speech rang with the tough bluster he has shown throughout the war in which his troops besieged and bombarded government-held Sarajevo.

Referring to the NATO troops being sent to monitor the accord, Mladic charged: "Those who bombed us have now infiltrated like lambs, saying they want to protect peace."

Many Bosnian Serbs consider NATO the enemy after alliance warplanes bombed Bosnian Serb targets in August.

Mladic has been indicted by an international war crimes tribunal. But he is very popular among Bosnian Serbs, especially those in and around Sarajevo who have turned out in large numbers to protest the deal.

On Saturday, several thousand gathered in Ilijas, one of the most defiant of Sarajevo's Serb-held areas.

"We won't go anywhere," said one demonstrator, Mirko Petrusic. "We will burn it all."

Sarajevo Serbs fear reprisals under the rule of the Muslim-led government. The Bosnian Serb police minister, Tomislav Kovac, said women and children already are leaving the area.

He said Bosnian Serb authorities are preventing men of military military age from leaving.

Other signs of trouble for the accord appeared Saturday.

An U.N.-accredited aid worker said he and two elderly Muslim friends were arrested near the Serb-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza on Nov. 24 and detained for two days. His car, money, and medical supplies for a Bosnian Serb hospital were stolen, he said.

Numerous vehicles recently have been stoned on the road between Sarajevo and Kiseljak through Ilidza, said a senior U.N. official. A U.N. convoy had to barrel through a rebel Serb roadblock in the suburb a few days ago.

Meanwhile, French U.N. Gen. Jean-Rene Bachelet apologized Saturday for saying that turning over most of the Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs to Muslim-Croat control amounted to "ethnic cleansing," in which his troops would not participate.

Bachelet, who commands U.N. troops in Sarajevo, said the remarks were not meant for publication. They appeared in Friday's edition of Le Monde of Paris.

In Zagreb, the Croatian capital, nearly 10,000 people took to the streets to denounce the transfer, under the accord, of Bosnia's oil-rich Posavina region to the Serbs.

The swath of land bordering Croatia was captured by the Bosnian Serbs and contains the only road linking the isolated Serb stronghold of Banja Luka in the west with Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in the east.

In Mostar, 60 miles south of Sarajevo, Bosnian Croats leaders said in a statement that if a U.S.-sponsored peace plan is amended to give Serbs more territory around Sarajevo, they will insist on the return of Posavina.

Bosnian Croats are, however, unlikely to press for any changes in the accord without the approval of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, their chief patron. Tudjman ruled out amendments on Friday.