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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Throw Doubt On Free Movement

SARAJEVO -- Bosnian Serbs on Wednesday released three people they had detained but said others were under investigation, casting a shadow over NATO's peace mission and pledges by all sides to ensure freedom of movement.

A French military spokesman, Captain Frederic Solano, said the three, one woman and two men, were turned over to French soldiers in the Serb-held western suburb of Ilidza.

They apparently had lost their way the previous evening and were detained by Serbs in territory they control near Sarajevo's airport, Solano said.

French military officials said the three people released Wednesday were not among 16 the Bosnian government complained have been detained by Serbs since last month, when a deal was signed to end 3 1/2 years of war in Bosnia.

Release of the three had appeared to be a hopeful sign of goodwill on the issue, but comments later by Ilidza Mayor Nedjeljko Prstojevic left room for doubt.

He said some of the detained had been released, but that "investigation procedures have begun against three persons.''

He would not say how many people still were in Serb detention in Kula prison in the Serb-held Lukavica suburb, but said they comprised Moslems, Croats and Serbs loyal to the Bosnian government.

Prstojevic claimed some of those detained had strayed from "the usual routes,'' and charged some had engaged "in illegal activities.''

The mayor made the comments after meeting a senior British commander, Lieutenant General Sir Michael Walker, who emphasized that the peace agreement calls for full freedom of movement.

"What we have here is a situation where it is clearly not the case,'' he said.

NATO officials dismissed Prstojevic's claims that people had strayed from designated routes.

The dispute came to a head as U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry arrived in Sarajevo on his first visit to Bosnia.

Perry held meetings with government officials and top NATO commanders, and then left for Tuzla, headquarters for the 20,000 U.S. troops arriving in northeastern Bosnia.

He also walked across the pontoon bridge built to bring U.S. equipment and soldiers to Tuzla. Engineers have struggled with mud, snow, cold and flooding to build the bridge and the first vehicles crossed over the weekend.

In their first open criticism of the NATO-led Implementation Force, known as IFOR, Bosnian government ministers demanded action to secure freedom of movement, which is a key test of the peace accord signed in Paris on Dec. 14.

Otherwise, they claim, IFOR could slide into the same political quagmire of uncertainty that dogged the 3 1/2-year UN mission, which failed to stop Europe's worst bloodshed since World War II.

"We have a pattern here that has been established and I think IFOR must respond to that,'' Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey told reporters.

But Perry and NATO spokesmen declared that the NATO-led force is not designed to focus on such issues.

"The task of the NATO's implementation force is to ensure freedom of movement under the terms of the Dayton agreement. We are not set up as a police force,'' Perry said.

He said it was important for an international police force to get to Bosnia and begin its work as soon as possible. About 2,000 UN civilian police are due in Sarajevo by the end of January, but police authority is weak now.