Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Best Hope for Bosnia: Hard-Liner Who Softened Plavsic Once Opposed Peace Accord. with NATO Backing, Serb President Now Vows to Fight Those Who Flout the Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Best Hope for Bosnia: Hard-Liner Who Softened Plavsic Once Opposed Peace Accord. with NATO Backing, Serb President Now Vows to Fight Those Who Flout the Plan

Article excerpt

It is one of the enduring scenes from the war in Bosnia. Posing for television cameras, a jubilant Biljana Plavsic embraced Zeljko "Arkan" Raznjatovic hours after the notorious paramilitary chieftain had presided over the bloody Serbian seizure of the town of Bijeljina in the spring of 1992.

Then a member of Bosnia's collective presidency, Mrs. Plavsic went on to become a strident advocate of a pure Serb state. At times, her vitriol against non-Serbs exceeded even those of her leader and now indicted war criminal, Radovan Karadzic.

But history has come full circle. Elected president last year of the Serbian Republic, the half of Bosnia awarded to the Bosnian Serbs by the 1995 Dayton peace plan, she is now being embraced by the US and its allies as the best hope of keeping the stalled effort for ethnic reconciliation from collapse.

"We are not supporting her personally," says a Western diplomat. "We are supporting her for what she stands for."

What Plavsic represents is a growing challenge to the corruption-fueled power of Mr. Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime president. Restricted to his mountain lair of Pale, east of Sarajevo, by the threat of arrest by NATO, Karadzic has been using frontmen to run the republic's government and obstruct key Dayton provisions since agreeing to depart public life last year.

Bolstered by Western political support, and protected by the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), Plavsic is promising democratization, a free media, and an end to the massive corruption through which Karadzic and his acolytes control the war-shattered economy. Her appeal has triggered resignations from the government and the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, or SDS, splintered the police, and won a pledge of neutrality from the Bosnian Serb army chief in her stronghold of Banja Luka, Bosnia's second-largest city.

Expelled from from the SDS, Plavsic plans to launch on Thursday her own party - tentatively called the Serbian People's Union - which she hopes will trounce Karadzic in October parliamentary polls. She promises to end obstructions to the so-called Dayton peace plan of 1995, drawn up to end ethnic conflict. The obstructions have kept the Serbian Republic from its share of the billions of dollars in international reconstruction aid pouring into the adjacent Muslim-Croat federation. But she faces a risky battle.

"The other side may pursue their ends by force. What she has started is very difficult," concedes Dragan Lukac, a police commander who sided with Plavsic after the power struggle erupted in July, when she dismissed Interior Minister Dragan Kijac and dissolved the parliament.

It was Mr. Lukac who led a brazen Aug. 17 raid on the Banja Luka police headquarters that uncovered evidence of bugging of Plavsic's office by Karadzic loyalists and huge stocks of arms. …

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