Balkans bound for even bloodier conflict

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

BENEATH the blazing Balkan sun, the temperature is rising - and with it the hopes for peace are evaporating. fast. After weeks of talk that when the war in Bosnia was seemed to be sputtering out, all talk in the region again is of war - and not merely renewed hostilities, but a war of new intensity and with no end in sight.

'I think all sides are expecting more fighting,' said Brigadier Andrew Ridgway, the British UN commander in central Bosnia. 'I'm convinced that without a settlement to the land issue there can be no peace here . . . there will be at least 20 years of war.'

The real fear is that war the fighting will not only continue but spread north to Croatia, east to Serbia or south to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. all caps Some diplomats even fear that the war could enter a second, more violent phase, with involving tanks on all sides, air battles and missile attacks on capitals.

On the ground, so too is the action - where the armies are not firing they are recruiting and training, buying arms and digging trenches: in the lush hills and valleys of central Bosnia, the suburbs of Sarajevo, along the Posavina corridor from Serbia through northern Bosnia, and on both sides of the lines around the Krajinas, areas of Croatia held by rebellious Serbs. In the corridors and conference rooms of Paris and Geneva, diplomats are desperate to broker a settlement are raising the stakes: the next plan will be a last chance for peace, a take-it-or-leave-it option backed by new, improved threats: lifting the arms embargo, lifting sanctions on Serbia, pulling the United Nations out of the former Yugoslavia.

The rest of the world, its team The United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany united at last, are trying to persuade the locals that the endgame has arrived. This week the team's five foreign ministers meet to endorse a new map of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with which assigns 51 per cent assigned to the Bosnian Muslim-Croatian federation and 49 per cent to the Serbs. But the omens do not look good for this latest move.

'There is a real international consensus and all that is rosy and promising,' said a senior UN official. 'The worry is that it's really out of sync with developments on the ground in Bosnia - and that there is no political will yet for a settlement there.'

Despite the UN's assessment that the Bosnians cannot yet beat the Serbs on the battlefield, and that the Serbs need to settle because of crippling economic sanctions agains Belgrade, neither side shows signs of compromise. A temporary truce until 10 July, promoted last month by the UN as a cooling-off period before negotiations, exists until 10 July in name only, its provisions shattered by a Bosnian army offensive against Serbian troops holding Mount Ozren, and retaliatory artillery assaults on Bosnian-held towns in the area.

General Rasim Delic, the Bosnian army commander, announced this week that The war in Bosnia has reached its peak. The Bosnian army now 'has the power to start a war of liberation'. Such sentiments have been echoed by his subordinates.

From his base in the pretty mountain town of Travnik (where nine people were killed by Serbian shells one day last week), General Mehmet Alagic told reporters it would be 'a short time until we sweep out (Radovan) Karadzic's Serbs' from told reporters from his base in the pretty mountain town of Travnik (where nine people were killed by Serbian shells one day last week), told reporters Gen Alagic said that he was expecting a joint Muslim-Croatian attack on the Serbs, adding for good measure that there would be no peace unless he could return to his home in north-western Bosnia, an area brutally and efficiently cleansed of Muslims by the Serbs.

Many of the general's troops are refugees from Prijedor and Banja Luka; they want to go home, too. But one thing on which all observers here agree is that there is absolutely no chance the Bosnian Serbs will not surrender Banja Luka, the only big city they hold and one that had a pre-war Serbian majority.

Many Serbs would wrongly - make the same claim for Prijedor (44 per cent Muslim, 42.5 per cent Serbian, according to the 1991 census), a town that exemplifies the problems facing the diplomatic cartographers: the Bosnians want it back, the Serbs have said, 'Never'.

As Momcilo Krajisnik, speaker of the self-styled Serbian Republic, put it: 'We will never give up those places (he includes Prijedor) in which, during the past two years, genocide was committed against the Serbs.' He is also reported to have said the Serbs 'cannot agree to increasing enclaves in western and eastern Bosnia, thus narrowing the Posavina corridor'. But if leaks of the new map to the media are to be believed, credible, this is precisely what the cartographers want the Serbs to accept.

'I don't think (the outlook) is very optimistic,' said the one UN source, who believes that neither side is eager to sign: - the Serbs because as they will be told have to cede around a about one-third of the land they hold; the Bosnians because as they will be forced to accept partition.

And, sure enough, on Friday the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said the proposed division of Bosnia proposed by US, Russian and Western European envoys was 'humiliating' to Serbs and could lead to more war.

Signs of truculence in Zagreb over the stalemate in the Krajina areas held by rebellious Serbs prompted the The US Ambassador to has warned Croatia against resuming its war with the Serbs. Peter Galbraith told Croatian refugees from the Krajinas: said: that 'the danger of a new war remains', adding: 'You would face not just the Serbs from the UN Protected Areas (in the Krajinas) but also Serbia itself much better armed with many more tanks and men.' The government in Belgrade also warned that, without a deal in Bosnia, 'the conflict would unavoidably escalate with unforeseeable consequences'. The statement from Belgrade echoed the international line of a 'last chance for peace', but But it may be hard to convince the combatants of this.

As a UN military source said: 'The international community is presenting this plan as take it or leave it, but nobody has explained what happens if the plan is refused.' In his assessment, of the situation, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose offered three scenarios: mass war breaks out; (and both sides have had six relatively calm months to prepare); one side or other side makes significant large military gains; or both sides muddle along in relatively low-intensity conflict. Then, only as an afterthought, he added: said: 'Or peace could break out.'