Recent NATO actions resulting in the death of one key Bosnian war-crimes suspect and the arrest of another mark a long-overdue hardening of allied willpower. The earlier failure to arrest any but a couple of minor figures in massive "ethnic cleansing" had seriously undermined the prospects of the Dayton peace accords as well as NATO's credibility.
The raids against two war-crimes suspects in the town of Prijedor should help restore the confidence of Muslims and Croats who were victims of Serbian hate campaigns. Many have yet to return to lands they were forced to leave despite a peace plan that calls for resettlement.
The men were accused of some of the war's most heinous atrocities. Simo Drijaca, who had been Prijedor's police chief, was killed after he reportedly fired at NATO troops trying to arrest him. The other suspect, Milan Kovacevic, was arrested without incident at the hospital he ran.
It is probably no coincidence that this military action came only months after Madeleine Albright took over as U.S. secretary of state and after Tony Blair took the helm in England. Both are known to favor tougher action. NATO also has a new commander, replacing the retiring Gen. George Joulwan, who feared having peacekeepers try to arrest war criminals. These key leadership changes hold the promise of a reinvigorated policy that can create a real chance for peace in Bosnia before U.S. troops are scheduled to pull out next summer.
But much remains to be done. In military terms, the moves against Drijaca and Kovacevic constitute a mere warm-up for what's really necessary: the arrests of Bosnian Serb strongman Radovan Karadzic and his military henchman, Gen. Ratko Mladic.
The indictments against Drijaca and Kovacevic were sealed -- meaning the men had no official warning they were wanted. By contrast, Karadzic and Mladic know they are wanted and both are well-protected. But Karadzic has to go. As long as he controls the police and key parts of the Bosnian-Serb government and works to thwart reconciliation, peace has little chance of taking hold.
The European Union has announced that it's freezing aid to the Serb-controlled territories until the Bosnian-Serb government turns over Karadzic. Maybe that cutoff of $33 million will be enough to prompt action.
But more likely, only NATO has the military resources to capture Karadzic and his right-hand man.