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Milosevic Had Power to Stop  War in Bosnia, says Former EU Envoy - 2003-11-03


David Owen, a former peace broker in the Balkans, has testified that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had the power to stop the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina but that he did not use it.

The gray-haired diplomat spoke in careful terms, but his message was clear: in 1993, while Sarajevo was under siege and the Bosnian war was raging, Slobodan Milosevic had the power to control rebel Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, but he did not use it. "He was in charge of a government that could put real, serious pressure on them to stop doing what they were doing, to stop shelling Sarajevo, to stop interfering with humanitarian convoys, to stop ethnic cleansing," he said. Lord Owen was the European Union peace envoy to Yugoslavia from 1992-1995. The Bosnian Serbs rejected his doomed Vance-Owen Peace Plan in 1993.

But Lord Owen testified he was convinced that, even though Mr. Milosevic's influence over the Bosnian Serbs waned after the spring of 1993, he still had enough leverage to bring them to the negotiating table. This could have been done, he said, by cutting off their supplies, especially oil.

Oil was the Bosnian Serb's lifeline, said Lord Owen, and it ran through Serbia to get to them, even as late as 1995, when the Srebrenica massacres were taking place.

Prosecutors must prove that Slobodan Milosevic exerted control over Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia to get convictions on their 66 counts of war crimes, including genocide, that are lodged against him. Lord Owen testified that it was clear to him that Bosnian Serbs could not survive without Belgrade's support.

He painted Mr. Milosevic as a pragmatist, not a racist, who ruthlessly pursued power. He said the former president acted like a drug baron in his financial dealings, built up the police as his own loyal militia to counterbalance the army, and told lies when he needed to.

During Slobodan Milosevic's cross-examination, Lord Owen wanted to know why Mr. Milsoevic never forced the increasingly unruly Bosnian Serbs, including Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, to accept a peace plan that even Mr. Milsoevic thought was beneficial to all Serbs.

Mr. Milsoevic denied he had the power to control the Bosnian Serbs, but he never said he did not help them. "It was a question of their survival," he said. "That was the core issue. It was with that regard that they relied on us. It was absolutely our duty to assist them to survive."

Slobodan Milosevic called it survival; Lord Owen called it war. But in the end, Lord Owen said both men failed to bring peace: he said he was never able to persuade the West to cut off crucial Serb supply lines by force and Mr. Milsoevic did not rein in the Bosnian Serbs.