Western Promises | The Nation


Western Promises

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The question of what and when the Western powers knew about the Srebrenica endgame is one that Del Ponte has been trying to probe, first and foremost by chasing down alleged US wiretaps of conversations between Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb leadership, especially during the pivotal summer of 1995. In January 2002, after her office obtained excerpts of such wiretaps from Croatia and received other indications of their existence, Del Ponte asked Washington for the transcripts or the actual recordings of the wiretaps. Three months later, the Dutch parliamentary report was published. In an appendix, it mentioned a White House meeting, without mentioning the date, between Vice President Al Gore and chief EU negotiator Carl Bildt. Citing an anonymous Western diplomat, the report claimed that after Bildt tried to convince Gore that Milosevic was a worthy peace partner, the Vice President responded by reading transcripts from US intercepts showing that Milosevic had consulted with Mladic about the attack on Srebrenica. Gore then reportedly told Bildt: "Forget about this. Milosevic is absolutely not the friend of the West." The prosecutor's office set out to learn more about the meeting. Hartmann provides new elements about that encounter, such as the date--early August 1995, a few weeks after the fall of Srebrenica--and the names of three other European participants: Alain Dejammet of France, Michael Steiner of Germany and Pauline Neville-Jones of Britain, all of whom represented the Contact Group, an informal diplomatic forum for Balkans-related issues.

About the Author

Marc Perelman
Marc Perelman is a Paris-based journalist for the TV station France 24 and was previously the diplomatic correspondent...

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Gore and Neville-Jones declined comment and Steiner did not respond to queries. Bildt, who is now Sweden's foreign minister, told me that all the participants have consistently claimed that the account about Gore reading the intercepts is incorrect. Dejammet seconded him, noting that Bildt is "someone who has a good memory." If so, then why have the US, French, British and German governments rejected Del Ponte's official request to testify about the meeting? Gore was willing to testify, but the Clinton Administration apparently barred him from doing so, according to Hartmann and Nice. And why has the United States refused to hand over the minutes of the Gore-Bildt encounter to Del Ponte's office? This meeting is important, Hartmann told me, not only because it proves the existence of the intercepts but also because it shows that Western countries knew Milosevic was the mastermind of the Srebrenica massacre at a time when they were negotiating with him.

Nice fully agrees about the importance of the intercepts and described to me his efforts to obtain them. But while he confirms that Western powers have rejected his entreaties, he claims that Del Ponte actually undermined him by withdrawing some of his requests. "She did this for some strange reason, and it ended up weakening our case against Milosevic," Nice told me. Del Ponte's office denies the assertions.

One of the difficulties faced by Western diplomats in reaching a peace accord at Dayton was the decision of the first ICTY chief prosecutor to issue an indictment against Karadzic and Mladic in July 1995. As a result, the two could not attend the Dayton summit, and instead were represented there by Milosevic. Moreover, the ICTY prosecutor issued a fresh indictment against them for their role in Srebrenica on November 16, 1995, five days before the final accord was reached. But bringing them to the ICTY was a nonstarter in Dayton not only for Milosevic but also for the Pentagon, which resisted making their arrest a priority for the 60,000 NATO troops about to be deployed. Their mandate was to bring stability to the troubled region; undertaking arrest operations against those still-powerful figures was seen as risky--and thus was quietly put on hold, according to Holbrooke's memoirs. But as Karadzic actively opposed the implementation of the Dayton agreement, he became a threat to that stability. In turn, in July 1996 Holbrooke negotiated with Milosevic the end of Karadzic's reign as the head of the Serbian Democratic Party and a moratorium on his media appearances.

Since then, French and Bosnian officials have suspected Holbrooke of having conceded immunity from the ICTY to Karadzic and Mladic during the July 1996 negotiations. Karadzic's entourage has always claimed there was such a deal. US officials have, in turn, maintained that France actually made a secret pact with the Bosnian Serbs to win the release of two French pilots the Serbs held hostage in 1995. Hartmann admits there is no bulletproof evidence of an immunity deal involving Holbrooke; her strong belief that there was one prompted a Serb prosecutor to open a probe into the issue after her book was published. Holbrooke has always denied the existence of such a deal, although he explained in his memoirs that once his initial request that Karadzic leave Bosnia and comply with the ICTY was rejected by Milosevic, he did not push for it.

After Western media reported that the two war criminals were able to move freely around Bosnia, including through NATO checkpoints, a more serious effort to apprehend them was launched in 1997; this prompted Mladic to flee Bosnia for Serbia and Karadzic to vanish in Bosnian Serb areas and even in Belarus for a few months with the help of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, according to Hartmann. But once they vanished from public view, so did the urgency to arrest them. While Mladic is in Serbia, which has consistently dragged its feet in cooperating with the ICTY, Karadzic likely spends most of his time in Bosnia, where international peacekeepers have been on the ground for more than a decade. Hartmann claims the early concerns that Bosnia would relapse into civil war are long gone and that there is no justification for the tepid efforts conducted to nab Karadzic. The reason, she surmises, is that if Karadzic and Mladic were ever brought to The Hague, they would make their first line of defense the exposure of their interactions with Western officials, such as the top UN and NATO representatives, at the time they were perpetrating ethnic cleansing--first and foremost in Srebrenica.

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