Breakthrough as Karadzic steps down

But the Serb leader might retain some power.
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The Independent Online
If genuine, Radovan Karadzic's resignation yesterday as leader of the Bosnian Serbs is the most important political breakthrough since last year's Dayton accords ended the 1992-95 war. Yet Bosnia's de facto partition is already so far advanced, and nationalist attitudes are so entrenched among Serbs, Croats and Muslims alike, that his removal cannot alone guarantee the state's restoration in the multi-national, united form set out at Dayton.

By forcing Mr Karadzic to quit as Bosnian Serb President and head of the ruling Serb Democratic Party (SDS), the special US envoy Richard Holbrooke ensured that Bosnia's first post-war elections on 14 September stand a better chance of success than if Mr Karadzic had stayed.

There is little risk now of a boycott by the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which had threatened to pull out unless Mr Karadzic left office.

On the other hand, with their leader forced out by foreign pressure, Mr Karadzic's SDS colleagues may declare an election boycott in Republika Srpska, the 49 per cent of Bosnia under Serb rule.

It is likely that a majority of Bosnian Serb voters would heed the command and stay at home. If the SDS decides to take part, the elections will almost certainly result in a substantial victory for the ruling party, which controls the police, media, bureaucracy and most of what economic life survives in Republika Srpska.

Like Mr Karadzic's successors as acting president and SDS leader, Biljana Plavsic and Aleksa Buha, most deputies elected in September would espouse nationalist views. Few Bosnian Serb politicians have questioned Mr Karadzic's vision of Bosnia as a place where Serbs are permanently separated from Muslims and Croats, living in a sovereign Republika Srpska that eventually unites with Serbia.

Furthermore, it is not yet clear that Mr Karadzic has been stripped of all political influence. Although Nato forces have pinned him down in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters outside Sarajevo, he is still free to plot strategy with other SDS leaders and to shape events from behind the scenes.

Ejup Ganic, the Vice-President of the Muslim-Croat federation, which occupies 51 per cent of Bosnia, said: "I don't doubt that Karadzic will continue in his old way, creating a parallel system and obstructing the Dayton agreement and peace in the region, until he is completely removed."

With or without Mr Karadzic, the elections seem destined to reflect Bosnia's three-way division by confirming SDS domination of Republika Srpska, SDA domination of Muslim areas of the federation, and the domination of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in Croat areas.

When elections were held last month to reunite Mostar, the southern city divided into Croat and Muslim sectors, the predictable result was that the HDZ triumphed in the Croat half and an SDA-led alliance won in the Muslim half.

Mr Karadzic and the SDS have tried hard to sabotage the Dayton accords, but the SDA and even more so the HDZ are far from blameless. The HDZ has refused to abolish Herzeg-Bosnia, the separatist Croat mini-state in western Herzegovina that under the Dayton terms should have been dissolved in the name of Muslim-Croat co-operation.

When it became clear afterelections in the southern city of Mostar last month that Muslims would have a narrow majority over Croats on the city's newly united council, the HDZ mayor of Croat-held west Mostar, Mijo Brajkovic, declared that his party would boycott the council.

The Croat aim is to prevent Mostar's reintegration and keep alive Herzeg- Bosnia, perhaps one day to merge it with neighbouring Croatia These obstacles to reuniting Bosnia are made even more insurmountable by the refusal of Serb and Croat authorities in particular to allow the free movement of civilians around Bosnia. Refugees are denied their right to return to their homes, lest something resembling Bosnia's pre-war ethnic mix might be reborn.

Michael Steiner, deputy to Carl Bildt, the International High Representative in Bosnia, said: "Nobody has any illusions that we don't still have a long way to go. But it has to come in steps. We will not have paradise in Bosnia in one day."