The assembly vote, at their headquarters at Pale, a former ski resort near Sarajevo, could determine the future of peace hopes in Bosnia. The Geneva mediators, Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance, are hoping approval by the Serbs means they renounce the idea of seceding from Bosnia, and accept a future in a state where power will be decentralised to 10 provinces organised on ethnic lines.
But there was little sign that they are about to back-track on the aim of joining an enlarged Serbian state. 'The Geneva plan is a little like the Koran - you can interpret it in different ways,' warned Todor Dutina, the deputy Foreign Minister. 'It does not close the door on a union of Serbian states in the future. It is just a basis for negotiations.'
In his address, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, accused the international community of colluding to force Serbs to live alongside Muslims in Bosnia against their will, but urged the
assembly to accept the Geneva plan and so relieve international pressure against Serbia.
'They forced us to live in a common state (with Muslims) not only under the Turks and the Austrians but after the Second World War,' he said. 'But this paper allows us to keep our rights, our unity, our tradition and our religion, and the principles of the paper offer us a certain chance to achieve the rest of our goals by political means . . . at the moment we Serbs should try to create what is possible.'
Velibor Ostojic, a Bosnian Serb minister, hailed the plan as 'a historical moment and a great turning point' and claimed that it offered de facto recognition of the independence of the rebel state.
The Bosnian Serb leaders add that voting 'yes' does not mean approval of the province borders mapped out in Geneva. So the fighting is likely to go on. There is no sign of an end to the siege of Sarajevo, now in its tenth month.
In fact, the Pale vote will probably do less to end the bloodshed than a growing feeling of war-weariness among Bosnian Serbs after 10 months of fighting.
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