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Balkans Express Sorrow Over Holbrooke's Death

  • Henry Ridgwell

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke (file photo)

U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who died Monday at the age of 69, played a key role in negotiating peace deals that brought an end to the wars in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. He was seen as a hero by many people in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Ambassador Holbrooke carved his reputation as one of the world's most effective diplomats during the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s.

His death comes just a day after Kosovo staged its first parliamentary elections since declaring independence from Serbia nearly three years ago.

Holbrooke played a key role in ending the conflict between the two countries in 1999, paving the way for Kosovo to declare its independence.

On the streets of the capital, Pristina there is shock and sadness at his death.

Local TV journalist Avni Ahmetaj says Holbrooke's role, not only in Kosovo but around the world as a peacemaker, was huge. "It is a sad day for all of us," Ahmetaj said. "He was a brilliant man, he played a crucial role not only in the Kosovo conflict before the NATO bombing and during the bombing, but also throughout the world trying to build peace. It is a really sad day for Kosovo."

Pristina resident Fatlum Beka was 16 when the war ended. His parents' house was burned down by Serbian forces.

Beka says Holbrooke's death is a huge loss for the world, but especially for the citizens of Kosovo" He says he remembers 1998 when Ambassador Holbrooke started negotiations with Serbia. He adds that Holbrooke helped Kosovo a lot in achieving independence when he was at the United Nations.

As then U.S. President Bill Clinton's Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke played the central role in ending the Bosnian war of the early 1990s that had cost an estimated 100,000 lives.

In 1995 he brought the warring Serb, Bosnian and Croat leaders together in Dayton, Ohio for talks that led to a peace agreement. That deal was signed exactly 15 years ago.

Haris Silajdzic was Bosnia-Herzegovina's foreign minister during the war and went on to become president. He was part of the Bosnian delegation at Dayton.

"Half the people had to leave their homes," recalled Silajdzic. "The Dayton Agreement put an end to that, and that has big value because the killing stopped."

Richard Holbrooke's direct negotiating style earned him the nickname 'The Bulldozer'.

He once said he had no problems "negotiating with people who do immoral things", if it helped bring about peace. Holbrooke met many such people during his career and analysts say his diplomatic muscle will be sorely missed in the United States and around the world.