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US President Bill Clinton (1995)
"They have heeded the will of their people"
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Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic (1995)
"Even-handedness is the basis on which the entire Dayton agreement rests."
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The BBC's Alan Little
"The Dayton agreement was an American achievement"
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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 08:38 GMT
Dayton five years on
Bosnian Muslim woman
The returning refugees lack home comforts
By David Brooke in Sarajevo

It is five years since the Dayton peace accords were signed, ending more than three years of fierce fighting in Bosnia.

The aim of the regime then in power in Serbia - under its hardline leader Slobodan Milosevic - was to separate by force the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic population in the Balkan region.

Bullet and shell-ridden buildings in Sarajevo
Sarajevo still bears the scars of the three-year war
It wanted as much territory as possible for the Serbs.

During the war, bombs and artillery rained on the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, but now all is calm.

In one of the main squares, where most of the paving stones are marked with the strange rose patterns of mortar explosions, a giant-sized chessboard is the only battleground to be seen.

It is a dramatic contrast to those horrifying times between the spring of 1992 and the autumn of 1995 when hundreds of thousands of people fled the fighting or were expelled.

Ethnic cleansing

Haris Silajdic, Prime Minister of Bosnia during most of the war, took part in the negotiations that led to the Dayton accords. He believes the conflict was an aberration - an exception to long periods when the nationalities lived together.

"The cause of the strife always came from the outside," he says. "Those who actually started this misery and this cataclysm here, indoctrinated people for about 15 years, contaminated their minds with national exclusivity, national extremism, 'ethnic cleansing', 'pure ethnicity'.

"I do not know what that means in these parts - to be 'purely ethnic.'"

The prime purpose of Dayton was to end the war after more than 200,000 deaths. Most of the victims were Muslims, killed in the waves of expulsions - or so-called ethnic cleansing - as the Serb army and paramilitaries swept through eastern and northern Bosnia.

They established control on the basis of nationality. If you were not a Serb, you were not welcome.

Once the fighting had started, there were many deaths amongst Serb and Croat civilians too. But the evidence is overwhelming that the war was a project launched in Belgrade, the Serb capital, to establish a state for all Serbs following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

Slobodan Milosevic had told Serbs left behind in the emerging states of Croatia and Bosnia that they would be isolated and persecuted. His solution was ethnic war.

"The story of Bosnia was the story about ethnic-cleansing," says the President of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ejub Ganic. "The genocide was committed to achieve ethnic cleansing."

Mr Ganic represents the predominantly Muslim half of the country - the half of Bosnia not under Serb control following the Dayton agreement.

He accepts that the peace at Dayton saved lives but he is outraged by what the division of the country has done to its prospects and to his people.

"More than 50% of the population has been removed from their backyards, from their own houses," he said. "The therapy introduced by the international community on this issue is not good enough."

Divided communities

Anyone looking for discouraging proof that outside intervention in the Balkans has failed to solve the region's deep-seated problems does not have to look far.

Unemployment is still more than 50%. There are long queues of young, educated Bosnians, outside Western embassies, hoping for visas to emigrate.

It is difficult to find any signs that divided Bosnia is working. And yet refugees are returning, trying to rebuild their lives and their homes. Under property laws, anyone who can prove they were legally occupying property before the war can get it back.

But what is more difficult to overcome is the deep-seated hatred between the Serbs and Bosnian Muslims.

Majda, a Bosnian Muslim who returned to her village, refuses to speak to her Serb neighbours.

"That neighbour, when the first barricades went up - she came to ask me if my son was a Muslim guerilla - my boy who played with her son for his whole life! I told her not to be so stupid.

"But she didn't come to warn me that the Serb army was going to attack, even though she must have known because her son was in their army.

"My son was killed in 1995 on the front line. How can I talk to her now? I will never talk to her."

Corruption allegations

Another serious hurdle in Bosnia is corruption. The weekly magazine, Dani, has exposed millions of dollars worth of international aid that has allegedly been put to improper use.

The money is alleged to have gone instead to individuals well connected with the Muslim Party for Democratic Action which until the recent elections held a virtual monoploy on power.

"All the firms [we] have investigated are owned by two or three people who are on very good terms with that party," said the editor, Vildana Selimbegovic. "The foreign donors do not know how to deal with the ex-Communist laws.

"Also the senior judiciary is associated with the Muslim party; even though they are supposed to be independent. The judges may not be members now; but they were until recently."

Five years after Dayton, Bosnia still has a long way to travel.

Pessimists say it can never reclaim the social, economic and cultural status for which the region was once renowned. Too many young people are leaving for Western countries. Too many ancient treasures have been destroyed.

But the real nightmare - that the political future will be crudely based on ethnic division by force - may have been overcome. And since Dayton, the guns have been silenced.

Therein lies some hope.

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | Europe
Sarajevo revisited
15 Nov 00 | Europe
Bosnia: The legacy of war
15 Nov 00 | Europe
UN regrets at Bosnia poll result
20 Oct 00 | Europe
Row over Kostunica's Bosnia visit
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
09 Oct 00 | Europe
Serbs shown war crimes film
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