- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2001

No safe haven

The new foreign minister of Bosnia yesterday pledged to keep his country from becoming a refuge for fugitives wanted for crimes committed during the country's civil war.

"It is important that Bosnia-Herzegovina does not become the last safe haven for war criminals," Zlatko Lagumdzija told Embassy Row.

He delivered that message earlier in a meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Undersecretary Marc Grossman.

Mr. Lagumdzija also urged Mr. Powell to lead an international effort to help Bosnia apprehend Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, and his former military commander, Ratko Mladic. The U.N. war crimes tribunal has indicted both men for atrocities committed during the 1992-95 civil war.

"I want American support in helping to build up a partnership with the international community," Mr. Lagumdzija said.

He said his 4-month-old government cannot be expected to arrest war-crimes fugitives without foreign help. About 60,000 U.N. troops are enforcing the delicately balanced peace treaty created by the Dayton Accords, which established a national government, a Bosnian-Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat Federation.

Mr. Lagumdzija said his government represented the first hope for Bosnia since it declared independence 10 years from Yugoslavia. His government, unlike its predecessor, is trying to bridge ethnic rivalries among the country's three main groups, he said.

Mr. Lagumdzija is the leader of the Social Democratic Party, which includes the three groups "under one party umbrella," he said.

The foreign minister said the government's other priorities are privatizing state-controlled industry, ensuring the safe return of war refugees and fighting corruption.

He had no idea of the extent of corruption in the government.

"I didn't expect it was that bad until we walked in," he said.

Mr. Lagumdzija came to Washington to drum up U.S. support for the new government.

"The next six months will be a most critical time for the future of Bosnia," he said, referring to his government's efforts to impose its reforms.

"I am very encouraged that I saw from Secretary Powell a commitment to support the forces that are ready to fight for the values of the democratic world," he said.

Mr. Lagumdzija said President Bush dealt a "sledgehammer blow" to the ethnic extremists when he announced he would not withdraw U.S. peacekeepers.

"Keeping Bosnia-Herzegovina as a multiethnic state is a key to stability in the region," he said.

Mr. Lagumdzija arrived here with his right arm in a sling, after breaking his elbow in a fall at the Sarajevo airport. He was not treated for his injury until he landed in Washington.

His broken elbow is a symbol of the strength of Bosnia, not its fragility, he said.

The 46-year-old Muslim engineering professor has suffered far worse. During the war, he was critically injured in a hand-grenade attack that left him hospitalized for 12 months.

One day, after repeated operations, he asked his doctor if he was normal.

"No," he said the doctor replied. "If you were normal, you'd be dead."

Mr. Lagumdzija today meets Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat; Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and a Foreign Relations Committee member; Senate Armed Services Committee members Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John W. Warner, Virginia Democrat; and Rep. Elton Gallegly, California Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Europe.

He holds a news conference at noon tomorrow at the National Press Club.

To the Senate

The White House yesterday sent four ambassadorial nominations to the Senate for confirmations.

They are J. Richard Blankenship, a Florida businessman, as ambassador to the Bahamas; Thomas Hubbard, a career diplomat, as ambassador to South Korea; Thomas Miller, now ambassador to Bosnia, as ambassador to Greece; and Larry Napper, a career diplomat, as ambassador to Kazakhstan.

The White House also sent the Senate the nomination of Ross Connelly to be executive vice president of the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

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