June 15, 1996

Factions in Balkans Agree to Limit Weapons


FLORENCE, Italy -- Taking one of the most important steps to carry out the beleaguered Balkan peace accord, Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, as well as the governments of Croatia and Yugoslavia, signed a sweeping arms control agreement Friday that sets limits on the types and number of weapons each of the former warring factions can possess.

Under the agreement, mediated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav Federation would enjoy a 21/2-to-1 superiority over Croatia in five types of weapons, while within Bosnia the Muslim-led Bosnian government and its supposed Bosnian Croat ally would have a 2-to-1 edge over the Bosnian Serbs.

To minimize opportunities for cheating, the arsenals of all sides are to be opened for international inspection.

International negotiators acknowledged that the accord could unravel without further steps, including cataloguing existing arsenals and providing free access for inspection teams as well as actually getting rid of weapons.

But they said they were cautiously optimistic that the document will help drain the vast reservoirs of mistrust in the region and lead to greater cooperation and a substantial reduction of the threat of renewed conflict.

"All of the parties, for the first time, have accepted, on a voluntary basis, to limit armaments and reduce arms if the numbers are above the limits," said Vigliek Eide, the chairman of the negotiations. "They have agreed on an international inspection mechanism so the parties can check to control the situation and build confidence."

The five parties have 16 months, starting July 1, to reduce the number of weapons they hold to specific levels, hitting interim targets along the way. The parties can export the excess weapons, destroy them or put them on fixed public display. Excess combat aircraft could be used for training if they are stripped of armaments.

Five types of weapons are to be limited: tanks, artillery over 75 millimeters in caliber, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft and attack helicopters.

The arms control agreement came on the fringes of a two-day conference of ministers from more than 40 European countries in Florence.

In a communique, the ministers endorsed the Clinton administration's call to go ahead with the Bosnian elections in September as scheduled under the accord reached at Dayton, Ohio, last year, despite the failure to achieve many conditions called for in the peace agreement, such as freedom of movement and the return of refugees to their homes.

The ministers also stated that the "continuation in public authority" of the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, indicted on war crimes charges by the international tribunal at The Hague, was "unacceptable" and called on Dr. Karadzic to "remove himself from public life."

But the key accomplishment was the arms-control agreement, which had failed to meet a June 6 deadline imposed at Dayton.

The final stumbling block to the signing came over the wording used to describe the Bosnian Serbs, who insisted on being designated as a "party" in the accord.

But the Muslim-led Bosnian government in Sarajevo said that the separatist Serbs should be called an "entity." The term is consistent with the references to the Serbs in the Dayton accord, which designated two entities -- Serb and Muslim-Croat -- as part of a united Bosnia. But, under heavy American pressure, the Bosnian Muslims backed down.

In the case of Serbia, as well as Serb-held Bosnia, many heavy weapons will have to be destroyed. But the agreement permits the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, nominal allies in a federation, to have twice as many heavy weapons as the Bosnian Serbs.

The Muslim-Croat Federation is scheduled to receive up to $98.4 million worth of U.S.-produced automatic weapons, tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters this year.

The United States is also attempting to find donors to provide the federation with $800 million in training and equipment, but has so far only drummed up about $200 million. Many European states object to the U.S. program, saying any infusion of weapons into the region will only help kindle another conflict.

The arms control deal was mandated by the Dayton peace agreement, which called on signers to accept quotas set down in the Dayton document or agree on new ones by June 6.

The current limits are very similar to those proposed at Dayton, but an important difference is that with the agreement international monitors will carry out verification inspections, making the quotas easier to enforce, OSCE negotiators said. The monitoring teams will have representatives from the five parties.

The agreement limits Yugoslavia to 1,025 battle tanks, 850 armored combat vehicles, 3,750 pieces of artillery, 155 combat aircraft and 53 attack helicopters, requiring Belgrade to reduce its holdings by about 25 percent.

Croatia will be permitted 410 battle tanks, 340 armored combat vehicles, 1,500 artillery pieces, 62 combat aircraft and 21 attack helicopters.

Bosnia will be allowed the same total numbers as Croatia, but with the Muslim-Croat federation allotted two-thirds of the total and the Bosnian Serbs one-third.

The Bosnian Serbs, who now have about 400 tanks and more than 1,000 pieces of heavy artillery, would have to reduce to 137 tanks and 500 artillery pieces.

"There is a lot of outdated equipment in the Serbian and Bosnian Serb arsenals," said a senior Western military official, "so some of what the Serbs and ethnic Serbs will get rid of is junk.

They have little money to acquire new weapons, so from their point of view it is better to accept limits, knowing that the Croats and the Muslims, who have donors ready to assist them, must also accept limits."