NEWSMAKER: HARIS SILAJDZIC
MAY 13, 1997
Almost two years ago, the warring factions of the former Yugoslavia were brought together in Dayton, OH by the United States to forge a peace accord. The resulting agreement ended three years of civil war, but since then the implementation of the agreement has gone slowly. Following a background report on the Dayton Peace Accord, Margaret Warner discusses the state of peace in Bosnia with the country's Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining us now is the co-prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic. Mr. Silajdzic, a Bosnian Muslim, alternates the post with a Bosnian-Serb. He's in Washington this week seeing administration officials and members of Congress.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
May 13, 1997:
Margaret Warner reports on the history of the Dayton Peace Accord.
May 12, 1997:
Departing NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan discusses the mission in Bosnia.
February 3, 1997:
Gaby Rado reports on the continued unrest in Serbia.
December 20, 1996:
Two Bosnian experts discuss the military and civilian efforts of SFOR.
September 16, 1996:
Richard Holbrooke discusses the Bosnian elections.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia.
Welcome, Mr. Minister. How far do you think Bosnia has come in the last 18 months?
HARIS SILAJDZIC, Co-Prime Minister, Bosnia: Well, I would have to raise a few questions here about the--of terms used. I just heard "ethnic conflict." Well, that's not an ethnic conflict. This has not been an ethnic conflict. This has been an aggression, carefully planned in Belgrade, that was a war against Bosnia, a war of expansion. The ethnic conflict is a consequence of that, so we, the Bosnians, are very much careful about using those terms. It's not an ethnic conflict because we used to live for hundreds of years without any ethnic conflict; they all lived together. So it was an aggression that killed 200,000 people, and especially Bosnians, not the Muslims of Bosnia; that's how we call ourselves. That's what's in our constitution, and we like to be called Bosnians.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Point taken. How is your country doing in recovering from that? I mean, where would--I mean, is the glass half empty, or is it half full in this last 18 months.
HARIS SILAJDZIC: I think it is half full now. I think there is now a consensus that something must be done immediately, and there is a new resolve, if I may say so, to do something about the Dayton Agreement that has not been implemented right now in the adequate way. But there is a progress, and I can tell you I've been today to meet Mr. Gelbardt, Bob Gelbardt, Amb. Gelbardt, special envoy of President Clinton to Bosnia. And I'm encouraged by the way the thing is handled now, and it is--there is much more rigor there. There is much more intention to intensify the work on the implementation of the Dayton Agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: So what has been--if you had to choose one--number one hurdle or obstacle to making more progress so far, what has it been?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Well, let me put it this way, if you ask me what to do, there are three priorities: No. 1, No 2., and No. 3. Arrest the war criminals because the war criminals, it's not only humiliation that we have them at large at the end of the 20th century, in the middle of Europe people who designed concentration camps and killed people, raped about 30,000 women, they are still at large, and it's a--it's a humiliation for all us. But also from the practical side of it, they are obstructing everything; the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. Why? Because they are afraid of the normalization; they are afraid for themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Is it true--I've read reports that Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, is, in fact, calling the shots still for the Bosnian Serb entities, is that the case?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: That's the truth. That's why this agreement has not been implemented. There are other reasons, but this is the main reason.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Then why hasn't he been arrested? Whose fault is that?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Well, that's a very good question. I think that there has been enough resolve in the international community, enough determination to make the necessary measures in order to bring these people, apprehend them and bring them to face the justice of the international tribunal in the Hague.
MARGARET WARNER: But are you expecting the NATO force that remains to do the arresting? I mean, Gen. Joulwan, as you just saw, was on here--on the show last night, and he said that, you know, that's not their mandate, that's not their function. It's up to the parties themselves under the Dayton Agreement to do these arrests themselves.
HARIS SILAJDZIC: That's not true because the parties do not do it themselves and the party of the Serb Republic refused--refused to amend their constitution in order to be able to apprehend the war criminals. They refuse to amend their constitution, so they are not implementing the Dayton Agreement, and the question is: Why is not the international community, especially the sponsors of the Dayton Agreement, reacting to it adequately? Because the truth is that they are spending--if you like wasting--taxpayers' money there because a few people there--war criminals who are upsetting the whole process.
MARGARET WARNER: Did you get any indication in your meetings with the administration that that is going to change, that the United States forces or the NATO forces are ready to go after these indicted war criminals?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: The truth is that we have heard that the U.S. government is determined to move the process on even more forcefully now. They're committed to the Bosnian cause being resolved in a just way, but I have not heard that. They are prepared to go and apprehend the war criminals in Bosnia and bring them to justice; I have not heard that. But I do hope that the time has come to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, as you know, the new defense secretary, William Cohen, seems--says he is determined that this June ‘98 deadline will be met for the withdrawal of at least the American troops out of the NATO force. Will Bosnia be ready for that?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Well as Gen. Joulwan said the question is what we do in the meantime, not how long they stay, but do we do in the meantime, and we should always remember that Bosnia proved in this century two times to be the fuse that can always go, the weak point, or the strong point, the way you look at it, not only in the region but globally, so we should always take into consideration the fact that Bosnia is a vulnerable place, and that's why the international presence is needed because we carry the burden of the fall of the bipolar system. We carry the burden of the transition of this, of the whole region from one system to another system, and we cannot do it alone. That's why we need for an assistance, but not for all times. What we need there is just another push or small step, and to make all these investments into Bosnia good.
MARGARET WARNER: By another push or small step are you saying an extension of the time, or are you saying something else in-between now and June of ‘98?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Well, what we must do now is to intensify our work and also we, the Bosnians at home to do more, and that's why we are meeting in Washington; that's why we are meeting people in the Congress, and the administration in order to try and see what we can do to intensify or to have this thing done, but not by July. I'm not sure that we will be able to do all that by July next year . What I would like to see--many people--all of us in Bosnia, all parties in Bosnia would like to see the American troops present in a different framework, a different number, but they present the factor of stability there, and we need them there.
MARGARET WARNER: And you expect--then are you asking for the United States troops now to be committed to stay longer, if it's necessary?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Well, of course, but I know it's difficult. I know that internal priorities and I know it's not popular, but it is much better than spending a lot of human lives and resources if we do not prevent a larger conflict in the area.
MARGARET WARNER: With all due respect, Mr. Minister, I think to many Americans it appears as if the Americans have devoted a lot of money and resources, have tried to buy this period of time for the Bosnians to get their country back together and that at some point it's up to the Bosnians to take the responsibility. I mean, what do you say to people at home who may think that?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: That's a good point. Of course, we appreciate all those efforts, and our people appreciate it deeply, and we understand the problems, and we understand that there are limits that we have to respect. But as I said, Bosnia is now carrying a big burden on its back, and it's not only ours. It's not only ours. We are paying the price for all that's happened in the last 10 years, including the collapse of the Soviet bloc. We are paying the price, and it's not only ours, and then there was this arms embargo, we always have to remember, on Bosnia imposed by the international community that made it a lot more difficult for us to cope with this now. So this is a collective effort to correct an injustice to Bosnia, and that's why we appreciate it even more.
MARGARET WARNER: And is the alternative war?
HARIS SILAJDZIC: I do not think that the alternative is war. And that is why I think we must deal more resolutely with more determination with the war criminals in order to show that the international community is not willing to accept another fascist system set up in the heart of Europe.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being with us.
HARIS SILAJDZIC: Thank you.