Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Kosovo, Serbia, Yougoslavia > Muslims, Croats Free Captives, But Serbs Delay Another Day;

Muslims, Croats Free Captives, But Serbs Delay Another Day;

January 28, 1996

Article from: The Washington Post
Article date: January 28, 1996
Author: Guy Dinmore

Bosnia’s Muslim-led government and its Croat allies released 242 Serb prisoners of war today, but the Bosnian Serbs said they would not free their remaining 180 prisoners until Sunday. Muslim families standing in icy rain waited in vain for hours near Sarajevo’s airport, neutral territory controlled by NATO forces where the prisoner exchange was to take place.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Pierre Gauthier told reporters that the Croats had freed 127 Serb prisoners at the airport and the government had freed 115 Serbs — 38 in central Bosnia and the rest from prisons in Sarajevo.

The United States has put intense pressure on the Bosnian factions to comply with the peace accord signed last month in Dayton, Ohio, which required that all prisoners of war be released by Jan. 19.

The Serb side said it would not be releasing its prisoners today. “They will be released {Sunday},” Dragan Bulajic, head of the Bosnian Serb Prisoner Exchange Commission, said at the airport, referring to the 150 Muslims and 30 Croats the Serb side has registered as prisoners with the Red Cross.

An expected prisoner release near Serb-held Teslic in northern Bosnia failed to take place. “It’s always like this — they tell you today it’s tomorrow or next week,” one Red Cross field worker in the area said.

Amro Masovic, head of the government’s exchange commission, reacted angrily to the delay, which followed an agreement reached Friday between the three formerly warring parties to free all their prisoners quickly.

“I’m leaving {the airport} because the other side did not bring any prisoners. Lies, again lies. The next step is up to {NATO} and the Serb side,” Masovic told reporters.

According to Red Cross lists, the Bosnian government still holds about 200 Serb prisoners. The Croats have kept 50 Serb prisoners as suspected war criminals, a procedure allowed under the Dayton peace accord, Red Cross officials said.

Masovic said the government would free its remaining prisoners but did not say when.

The Serbs’ Bulajic did not explain the delay, except to say there had not been enough time.

A NATO officer said it appeared the Serbs had gathered prisoners to be freed but had been unable to organize transport. It took the Serb side several hours to send buses to pick up the 200 or so Serb prisoners at the airport.

There were emotional scenes when the Serb soldiers were finally reunited with their families, who had been waiting at Serb-held Kula prison next to Sarajevo airport.

But for Muslim mothers and wives waiting in the mud and rain amid bomb-blasted buildings in government-held Sarajevo there was only bitter disappointment.

“It would be bad luck to talk before they’re free,” said one woman.

Both the Muslims and the Serbs accuse each other of holding many prisoners who have not been registered with the Red Cross.

But Bulajic insisted that all prisoners held by the Serbs had been put on Red Cross lists. He also alleged that Croatia was holding about 200 Serbs prisoner.

The government says it has lists of more than 24,000 people missing from the 43-month war. It has said that many Muslims may have been massacred and dumped in mass graves and alleges that more than 1,000 are being held in secret labor camps.

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