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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BosnianSides CallFor POW Release

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Leaders of the two parts of postwar Bosnia agreed Friday to try to make peace work, calling for the immediate release of prisoners of war and seeking to ease fears about a unified Sarajevo.

The meeting in itself was historic, bringing together Kresimir Zubak, president of the Moslem-Croat federation, which will form half of Bosnia, and Momcilo Krajisnik, a leader of the Bosnian Serbs, who will control the other half.

It was the first such high-level meeting on Serb turf since war began nearly four years ago and marked another small milestone in efforts by Bosnia's rival factions, pushed by the West, to translate a paper peace deal into reality.

"We agreed to issue orders for the release of the remaining prisoners as soon as possible," Krajisnik said after 2 1/2 hours of talks.

The POW release is key to building confidence and fostering goodwill among Bosnia's enemy factions.

Failure to comply with a Jan. 19 deadline for the unconditional release of all POWs was the first significant violation of the U.S.-brokered peace accord.

Zubak, an ethnic Croat, and Krajisnik, traditionally a hard-line Serb leader, also agreed to work together to resolve tensions around Sarajevo, where an estimated 70,000 Serbs have threatened to flee when Serb-held parts of the city revert to federation control in March.

"Personally, I am calling on Serbs to stay," said Zubak. "They'll have full equality with all other peoples."

Krajisnik said Bosnian Serbs wanted "an agreement with the federation" over co-existence in Sarajevo.

"Serbs want to have their own authority and want compromise," he said. "The message to the Serbs and all other people in Sarajevo is that joint life in Sarajevo can be established only if there is mutual respect and if minimum interests and rights and authority of all three nations is respected."

Though qualified, it was the strongest statement of support for a united Sarajevo from a senior Bosnian Serb official.

The change in Bosnian Serb attitude, which also included promises to cooperate with war crimes investigations, followed talks Thursday with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Milosevic summoned Bosnian Serb leaders to his retreat outside Belgrade for talks sources said were aimed at pressuring Bosnian Serb compliance with the peace plan. Milosevic has pushed his former proteges into peace in order to get severe economic sanctions on Serb-led Yugoslavia lifted.

The smooth unification of Sarajevo is considered a litmus test of the peace deal.