Bosnians say 'yes' . . . and 'no'

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA's Muslim-led parliament voted unanimously last night in favour of the planned division of the country into three ethnic states, but only did so after adding a list of rigorous conditions which rejected the current shape of the peace plan.

At a session convened in the half-ruined Sarajevo Holiday Inn hotel, the delegates held a fierce debate on the winding up of their state.

Some wanted a chance to shout a final defiant 'No' to the international plan to partition Bosnia. Even those who argued for acceptance were angry at what they were being forced to endorse. They reserved most bitterness for the international mediators Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, whom the delegates saw as the representatives of the West who had betrayed Bosnia's civil democracy in the face of agressive nationalism.

Among the Muslims who reached the partly destroyed hotel for the session were delegates who had slipped into Sarajevo over the disputed Igman mountain - darting across Serb and United Nations front lines lines. A handful were reported to have arrived through a secret tunnel which runs under Sarajevo airport. The UN ferried five delegates across Serb front lines by helicopter.

Despite some defiant talk to the outside world, Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, has privately told the delegates to be realistic, which in Bosnia's context implies giving up hope of Western armed intervention against the Serbs, or air strikes.

Bosnia is already split on ethnic lines. Of the 240 delegates elected to parliament in 1990, only a Muslim rump showed up for the fateful vote.

Bosnian Serb and Croat delegates held their own mini-parliaments to vote on the plan in Pale, a former Olympic ski resort outside Sarajevo, and at Grude, in Croat-held south- west Bosnia. In Pale the Serbs voted by 55 to 14 with three abstentions to accept the plan. During the debate the Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, grabbed the podium between every two or three speakers to keep his assembly in line. His patron, Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, is satisfied with the Serbs' 52 per cent share of Bosnia. His aim is to get the deal in place and international sanctions on Serbia lifted. The Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban is much less happy with his 17 per cent portion of the Bosnian cake. But his self-styled parliament gave conditional acceptance to the plan after declaring a 'Croat Republic' within the country.

The Muslims, who made up 44 per cent of Bosnia's pre-war population, are being asked to make the biggest sacrifice, by accepting only 28 per cent of the territory. Mr Izetbegovic wants more - an exit to the sea across Croat-held Neum, and the recovery of the ethnically-cleansed Muslim towns in eastern Bosnia.

In the besieged city of Mostar, meanwhile, there were signs that part of the trapped UN relief convoy was being allowed to leave after a stand-off lasting three days.

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