Richard Holbrooke and John Glenn were introduced to
the Dayton International Peace Museum.
Holbrooke accepts award, recalls fragile negotiations
By Jim DeBrosse
Dayton Daily News
DAYTON | Before accepting the 2005 Dayton Peace Prize Thursday night, Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton Peace Accords, recalled the cliff-hanger night 10 years ago this Saturday when the talks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base seemed to end in utter failure.
After 21 days of intense negotiations among Muslims, Croats and Serbs to stop the ethnic carnage in Bosnia, the road to peace had halted on a single issue — the fate of Brcko, a city in northern Bosnia hotly contested by the Muslims and the Serbs.
Near midnight, a U.S. delegation including Gen. Wesley Clark, then commander of NATO forces in the Balkans, made a last-ditch visit to the suite of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.
"We told him we're going to close down (the talks) tomorrow, and we'll reserve our own decisions as to what we'll do next," Holbrooke said. "We made clear this might mean more bombing" of Serbian forces.
Milosevic rejected any compromise. "Because of that, we went to bed that night having failed," Holbrooke said.
In the morning, while his staff was discussing what they would say to the 800 members of the world media at the base's Hope Hotel, who already had heard the rumors that the talks had failed, Holbrooke's wife interrupted the meeting to tell him Milosevic was in the parking lot and wanted a word with him.
There, in the falling snow, Holbrooke received the good news that the Serbs were willing to compromise on Brcko.
Later that day, Nov. 21, 1995, all parties initialed an agreement at the hotel, ending a war that had killed 250,000 people, displaced nearly a million more and threatened to destabilize Europe.
Holbrooke, 64, accepted the Dayton Peace Prize at a black-tie dinner at the Schuster Center for the Performing Arts. The prize, which honors peacemakers anywhere in the world, carries a $25,000 stipend donated by local philanthropist Oscar C. Boonshoft. Previous winners include former President Bill Clinton and philanthropist George Soros.
Holbrooke said he would donate a portion of his prize money to the Dayton International Peace Museum, 208 W. Monument Ave., which houses testaments to people, places and philosophies dedicated to a vision of peace.
The chief U.S. negotiator during the talks, Holbrooke went on to become the U.S. representative to the United Nations in 1999 under Clinton and has led several nonprofit organizations since then devoted to refugee assistance and the international fight against AIDS.
Also honored at the dinner was Farida Musanovic of Sarajevo, who founded the Women for Women economic self-help network for women in war-ravaged areas of the world. She was awarded the Dayton Peacemaker Prize for her grassroots reconstruction work for peace.
Holbrooke acknowledged that the Dayton agreement had flaws, in particular its creation of separate armies in Bosnia and the retention of the country's ethnically controlled political parties. But he said the peace accords achieved what they had set out to do "against all predictions," including a 3-to-1 vote in Congress against enforcing the agreement for fear of American casualties. No American soldier has been killed keeping the peace there in 10 years.
"The underlying point was the goal of ending the war, and by God, we did it with your help in Dayton," he said.
Holbrooke said his staff chose not to negotiate the agreement in a major world capital, where efforts might have been undermined by cynicism and leaks to the media. Moreover, they wanted an environment where the warring parties could be isolated and forced to focus on negotiating a peace.
"If we had been in Geneva or Washington or some tired old capital of failed negotiations, we wouldn't be here today" to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the accords, he told reporters prior to his acceptance speech.
"When we picked Dayton, we had no idea that the people of Dayton would become part of the process ... that they would hold candlelight vigils, that they would congratulate and pray for us, that they would form a human peace chain around the base. Or that 10 years later, they would still be studying (the accords) and what it means to the world."
Contact Jim DeBrosse at (937) 225-2437.
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