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December 14, 1995


A peace treaty was signed in Paris today that formally ends the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The war, which began in 1992, has left at least a quarter of a million people dead or missing and made refugees of more than half the nation's population. The treaty, hammered out during three weeks of intensive negotiations last month in Dayton, Ohio, was signed by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbian as well as other international heads of state. Bosnian Serb nationalist leaders were absent because they are under indictment for war crimes and genocide, and would have been arrested had they come to Paris.

NATO has agreed to send in 60,000 troops for one year to patrol a separation of the fighting forces there as part of the peace agreement. Several non-NATO countries, including Russia, will participate in the implementation force. An estimated 20,000 of those troops will be American, with Britain and France also making major contributions.

Officials from Bosnia and Serbia were to exchange letters of recognition before the signing, formally establishing diplomatic ties, AP reports. Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic were expected to conduct the exchange.

Bosnian President Izetbegovic admitted he came to the treaty-signing ceremony with little enthusiasm for a plan that codifies ethnic divisions within Bosnia. Under the peace plan, the nation is to remain one state composed of two parts: a Bosnian-Croat federation and the "Republika Srpska" -- a Serb republic created through a brutal campaign of "ethnic cleansing."

"The fate of refugees will go a long way to determine how well the plan works," according to AP. "Under the plan, all refugees have a right to return home, but it is unlikely that many will feel safe returning to territory controlled by their foes." Few international aid workers expect repatriation to happen anytime soon, and doubt that Muslims and Croats will ever be able to return to Serb-held territories.

And as refugees attempt to return home -- such as Bosnians living abroad going back to Sarajevo now that the siege has eased -- it raises questions of what will happen to other displaced people who moved into the homes of those who fled.

Free elections are supposed to be held within six to nine months, but there are major questions about whether and how refugees will be able to cast votes.

"I don't hide a certain amount of worry," French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette told French radio. "One can imagine there will be incidents."

France signed the agreement two days after two of its pilots shot down over Bosnia this summer were released by their Serb captors. France had threatened unspecified consequences if the men were not freed. Serbian President Milosevic reportedly threatened to arrest Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic if the men weren't freed. However, there is still no word on the fate of thousands of Muslim men missing when their families were expelled from Banja Luka several months ago; Milosevic had also pledged to help find them. Humanitarian groups are reportedly trying to negotiate for the release of all Bosnian prisoners by January.

American President Bill Clinton sounded an optimistic note at today's ceremony, BBC reports. "I applaud these leaders for making the decision to turn from war to peace that they will formalize today," he said at the mid-day ceremony held in the Elysee Palace. "Tomorrow they will begin the hard work of making that peace real." The U.S. was also expected to give $85.6 million for immediate, "quick-impact" aid to Bosnia in the next few months, including $72.9 million for "weatherization" (winter clothing and housing repairs). Another $7.2 million is slated for rebuilding the country's war-shattered infrastructure. The long-term Bosnian reconstruction effort is expected to cost billions of dollars, to be paid for by donors throughout the world.

Celebratory gunfire rang out around Sarajevo Thursday morning, where BBC reports residents in government-controlled parts of the city expressing a cautious optimism that perhaps the fighting has really come to an end in their war-ravaged city. However, many throughout Bosnia remain skeptical that peace will last.

While the shelling and sniping have eased for now in Sarajevo, the city continues to struggle with inadequate water, power, and heating supplies. A state of emergency was declared after two feet of snow were dumped on the city earlier this week.

In Serb-occupied parts of Sarajevo scheduled to revert to government control, residents there say many refuse to live in a reunified city under non-Serb control. Thousands are expected to flee the districts.

"The signing ceremony raised hope Bosnia would not face a fourth winter of war and could spend its first peaceful Christmas since 1991, though the risk remained that fighting could break out again," according to AP.

-- Sharon Machlis Gartenberg, for the Bosnia Action Coalition (Mass./NH)

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