Bosnians torn apart by peace plans

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The Independent Online
'MOTHER says we should sign anything that means she can go out without being shot,' said Amira. 'But father wants to hang President Izetbegovic. He says we fought for a united Bosnia, and now 200,000 people have died for nothing.'

The Geneva peace deal to split Bosnia into three mini-states is likely to tear the Bosnian Muslim community apart. It will set the hundreds of thousands who lost homes, parents and children in the war against those who want to salvage the little they have left.

On the streets of Sarajevo yesterday people took advantage of a ceasefire to gather in knots to argue about the vaguely understood terms. 'I am disappointed because we did not fight for a Muslim state,' said Aiida, a 23-year- old law student. 'My boyfriend is Croat and in the army. What was he fighting for? This land was as much his home as mine.' For Aiida, and tens of thousands of others in mixed relationships, breaking up Bosnia on ethnic lines threatens to draw a line through their bedrooms.

Her friend Dina disagreed. 'It is clear now we are not going to win this war. We will just sacrifice 200,000 more lives and have no country left at all,' she said. 'I have lost my home in Grbavica (a Serb-held suburb). All I want is for me and my family to survive.'

In Geneva, Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, tried to cushion the blow of partition to his shocked Muslim supporters. 'Bosnia retains internationally recognised frontiers and membership of the UN; in other words, it remains a state,' he said. He insisted that the government in Sarajevo would retain 'numerous competences', although he did not say which ones.

The ear-to-ear grin on the face of Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, told another story. Backed by Croatia, his kinsmen in Bosnia have forced Mr Izetbegovic to agree to sign away his country. The three ethnic states formed from the ruins of Bosnia will have all the trappings of independence. The only competence left in the hands of Sarajevo will be foreign policy.

Mr Izetbegovic had little option but to give in, as the latest Serbian offensive against Sarajevo left hundreds of Bosnian fighters dead on Zuc hill.

In a front-page editorial, the daily newspaper Oslobodjenje warned: 'Bosnia was unprepared for this war and cannot resist the monstrous war machine of Milosevic and Karadzic. If we carry on, the area under the control of the Bosnian army will shrink, and Sarajevo will fall. We must escape the final cataclysm.'

There are suspicions that Mr Izetbegovic and his Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) have been toying with the idea of a Muslim mini-state all along. Muslim hardliners have never been happy sharing a state with Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. For some of them, a big Bosnia is worth sacrificing for a little Islamic state.

'We are in a dilemma whether to fight for the state of Bosnia or the survival of the Muslim nation,' said Mustafa Ceric, Sarajevo's chief Imam. 'If partition guarantees the survival of our people, we should accept it. The whole Serbian nation is guilty for what has happened to us, and Muslims must become strong so that the others can never do to us again what they are doing now.'

But without an agreement on territories, optimistic talk of ending the fighting looks premature. Mr Izetbegovic insists: 'We must have a territory where two million people lived before the war, access to the river Sava and the sea. What we agreed till now has no value if we fail to agree on maps.'

No one can vouch for the reaction of the 100,000-strong Bosnian army, at the limit of its endurance in besieged Sarajevo but far from a spent force elsewhere. In central Bosnia, the Muslims are advancing against the Croats several miles each day, taking one Croatian stronghold after another. Breaking the latest ceasefire, Muslims launched a big offensive yesterday against demoralised Croatians near the towns of Gornji Vakuf and Prozor, forcing British UN forces based nearby into a state of maximum alert.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, has said he is ready to see Muslims keep 30 per cent of Bosnia's territory. But the offer relates to lands held by Bosnian Croats, not his own Serbian forces. There is no clue about the future of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, which could be left cut off from the rest of Muslim-held territory - and dependent on UN airlifts, as was West Berlin.

A partition deal will be the final tragedy for the two million people, mostly Muslims, forced from their homes in 16 months of war. Many are in refugee camps, and if partition goes ahead, they will lose hope of ever going home.

But it is no less tragic for the Serbs and Croats who fought alongside Muslims for a united Bosnia. They will have no homeland at all. Ethnic Serbian journalist Gordana Knezevic, close to tears as she listened to the peace terms on the radio, said bitterly: 'Asking us in Sarajevo what we think about the peace terms is like asking Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. We are in no position to dictate terms. It is the world which has said yes to ethnic fascism.'

(Photograph omitted)