Double vision blurs peace map

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The Independent Online
CAN BOSNIA survive as a single state in any meaningful sense? Will the rebel "Srpska Republic" or the Croat segment eventually break away, leaving, as Zagreb once put it, "a small Muslim garden". The answers to these questions flow from the battleground, and the shape of the front line when the real talks start.

As Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy, and the rest of the negotiating team shuttle between Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo pitching maps and principles, the parties are slugging it out in western Bosnia - to the deep detriment of the secessionist Serbs. The UN estimates that in the past month or so, the proportion of land held by the rebels has fallen from around 72 per cent to around 55 per cent - close to the 51-49 split envisaged by the peace plan.

Under the "Basic Principles" agreed 10 days ago in Geneva, Bosnia will exist as a single state, with international recognition within its present borders, and will contain two "entities", the Muslim-Croat Federation, and the Srpska Republic, each with rights to "parallel special relations" with neighbouring states. As the Bosnian Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, said last week: "There is no model."

He said the rebels would be allowed to have their own police and administration, even their own army - but no political representation, except that afforded by elected Serb politicians who remained on the government side. President Alija Izetbegovic's response to Geneva was to state that, whatever else the Serbs had gained, they would be forced to use Bosnian passports and number-plates.

Not necessarily: "The Serbs would have a maximalist approach to the trappings of statehood," said one official, implying they would have their own a flag (which they have now), currency (they use Serbian dinars), and number-plates (Cyrillic script).

"There will be integration with the Serbs if the Bosnians destroy their military power, but not otherwise," one diplomat said flatly. "Although that is now looking like a possibility ..."

A more likely scenario, however, is that Nato troops will be placed in positions securing the international border and the internal line between the parties. At present, sources say, the idea is for a straight split, with the Serbs gaining the inverted L of northern and eastern Bosnia, the government holding the rest (except the enclave of Gorazde).

International administration of a united Sarajevo, perhaps conducted by the European Union, supported by Nato, is another idea, although the EU has had serious problems trying to unify the city of Mostar, where Croats on the west bank of the Neretva River are strenuously resisting the idea of reconciliation with Muslims.

Perhaps the best model - the only model - for a new Bosnia (whose name might even change) is the Z4 plan proposed by Washington, Moscow, and the EU, as a solution to the war in Croatia, until Zagreb got in first with a blitzkrieg that drove out 200,000 Croatian Serbs.

Under the Z4 plan, the "Republic of Serb Krajina" within Croatia would have won a huge degree of autonomy, with its own president, parliament, police force and flag, powers of taxation and separate education system. It would not have been able to raise an army, but would share a coinage, with legal rights ensured by representation at a constitutional court.

The Croatian Serb leaders, presumably to their lasting regret, refused even to consider the Z4 plan. They are now living in retirement in Belgrade. Their Bosnian Serb counterparts may not be so lucky - even if they do negotiate a peace.

Both Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic have been indicted as war criminals, and the world will find it extremely difficult to push the government to accept any future role for them. "We cannot now say, OK, there is another equal half of Bosnia, never mind that you killed and destroyed," said Mr Silajdzic. "That's not going to happen."

Assuming that both "entities" find a modus vivendi, the role of the central government, which will, it seems, be responsible solely for international affairs, is another complication. The Sarajevo government will hold the UN seat and run the embassies; but presumably the Serb entity will be allowed an international voice unless that is to come only through links with Belgrade.

"Bosnia-Herzegovina is not only two entities, it is the state of Bosnia- Herzegovina, and the central organs must be strong enough for this to be a state," Mr Silajdzic said. How? is the question, especially if one takes "statehood" to imply control of territory claimed. It comes back, once again, to the battlefield: without a military solution, be it victory and defeat or stalemate, there can be no political deal.

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