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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clash in Mostar Shakes Peace Hopes

SARAJEVO -- Bosnian peace hopes faltered Tuesday as a clash erupted in newly "reunified" Mostar, panic grew among Sarajevo Serbs and Serb army chiefs stayed aloof from the peace process.

New commitments made by rival factions at a weekend Rome summit were threatened most starkly by the failure of the reunification of the divided Moslem-Croat city of Mostar to go ahead as scheduled.

All barriers and checkpoints in Mostar were supposed to come down at noon local time Tuesday, allowing full freedom of movement for all. But 30 minutes after the deadline, a car carrying three young Moslems was blocked inside Croat territory and hit a tree. As they made their escape on foot, one fell and was beaten by Croats who fired two shots in the air.

Bosnian Croat and Croatian policemen also failed to turn up for planned joint patrols in the city.

"It is not much of a goodwill sign if half the people are missing," Western European Union spokesman Howard Fox said. "All agreements are interlocked -- if one falters they all do."

Mostar, shattered by a Moslem-Croat war in 1993, is supposed to be reunified under European Union administration and is regarded by diplomats as a test for the whole Bosnian peace.

In Sarajevo, hundreds of Bosnian Serbs clamored for help to leave the suburb of Vogosca before the deployment of Moslem-Croat federation police at the end of this week.

"The police deployment dates were announced on Monday and last night the Serbs were broadcasting information about the exodus," said one UN official.

"They're mobilizing trucks and fuel. It's going to be chaotic for sure, but we hope not dangerous."

Gojko Klickovic, chairman of the Serb Republic's headquarters for the settlement of refugees, said on Monday "the evacuation of Sarajevo Serbs should begin [Tuesday] at 1200 and should be completed within three days."

The UN estimates 15,000 to 20,000 Serbs have left the suburbs, due to be transferred to Moslem-Croat rule during the next month, since the Dayton, Ohio, peace deal was signed in Paris two months ago, leaving as many as 50,000 still to make up their minds.

Kris Janowski of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, office in Sarajevo said many Serbs wanted to stay in the suburbs but a campaign to get them to leave was being mounted by the Bosnian Serb leadership.

"This is all part of a campaign of manipulation to get the people out, to create a psychosis," he said.

Lieutenant-General Michael Walker, commander of ground forces in the NATO-led Implementation Force, or IFOR, in Bosnia, met Major General Zdravko Tolimir, deputy commander of the Serb army, at the Serbs' base Pale on Tuesday.

Showcase talks aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Adriatic between NATO and rival Bosnian military chiefs flopped Monday when the Bosnian Serbs failed to turn up, despite assurances in Rome that they would end their boycott of such meetings.

"What General Walker is doing is reading the riot act to General Tolimir and explaining to him in no uncertain terms that he has got to come back into the fold," NATO spokesman Brigadier Andrew Cumming said in Sarajevo.

U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of the peacekeepers, lambasted the Serbs for Monday's boycott and said their absence cast doubt on the suspension of international sanctions against them, the prize promised them in Rome.

The Serb boycott of military liaison talks with NATO and Bosnian Croat and Bosnian government commanders is in retaliation for the arrest and deportation a week ago of two Serb officers to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

The Serbs complain war crimes investigations are loaded against them, saying most of the 52 men indicted by the tribunal are Serbs. Among them are Bosnian Serb "president" Radovan Karadzic and military chief General Ratko Mladic, who is represented by Tolimir in contacts with NATO as the Dayton agreement demands that indicted war criminals not hold office.