Envoy plays down Bosnia peace hope

Richard Holbrooke, the US peace envoy to Yugoslavia, sought yesterday to dampen speculation that peace in Bosnia could be around the corner. After talks with President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, he emphasised that the distances to be bridged are still "very large".

Mr Holbrooke said that he had had a "very good talk", in the midst of "an intense phase of shuttle diplomacy". Nobody could describe that last phrase as an exaggeration: Mr Holbrooke flew from Sarajevo to Belgrade on Saturday, held talks with Mr Milosevic till midnight, then left yesterday morning for the Croatian capital, Zagreb. From there, he went briefly to Sofia to brief Bulgarian leaders, and was due to return to Sarajevo today.

Locals are impressed by his energy, if nothing else: the Belgrade weekly Nin devoted a column to explaining the history of shatl-diplomatia, "an American speciality at times of great urgency". Earlier in the weekend, Mr Holbrooke had warned against "premature" talk of a ceasefire. He argued: "This isn't an express train, and never was."

To an extent, Mr Holbrooke's caution may stem from the desire to make the final moment - when he pulls the rabbits out of the hat - all the more dramatic. The cover headline in Vreme news magazine describes last week's deal, brokered by Mr Holbrooke, as "the New York Jajce" - a reference to the historic meeting which marked the founding of post-war Yugoslavia. Vreme speculated on a historic scene that would include the three presidents - Mr Milosevic, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia - standing with President Bill Clinton on the White House lawn, to sign a peace plan. "This scene would have been unthinkable until now, but after the performance which Holbrooke directed in New York, it seems that we may see this movie soon."

There are, however, good reasons to take Mr Holbrooke's caution at face value. Indeed, it may be understated. Vreme concluded: "It's a very different matter, how things will work out in practice. It is unclear whether these questions keep the Americans awake at night. To paraphrase Churchill: 'They won't have to live in Bosnia after the war.' "

Questions of territory, including the future of Sarajevo and the proposed corridor to the Muslim-held town of Gorazde, will be hard to settle. But these problems pale into insignificance by comparison with the long-term difficulties of sustaining a deal, however the borders are drawn.

The New York deal envisages a Bosnia consisting of two equal entities - the Muslim-Croat federation on the one hand, and the Republika Srpska on the other. Within the Muslim-Croat federation, however, the Croats now offer little loyalty to a Bosnian government and look almost entirely to Zagreb.

The Bosnian Croats have Croat currency, a Croat army, and the Croat flag. Mr Tudjman has never hidden his desire to carve up Bosnia; recently he noted that Zagreb accepted the federation only "for strategic reasons". President Tudjman has talked too, in an interview with Le Figaro, of the need to "Europeanise Bosnian Muslims so that they can be integrated in European civilisation" - this from a man who allows fascists to run riot and who has given his blessing to "ethnic cleansing" in recent weeks. If the Croats do not sabotage their federation with the Muslims, it will be a miracle.

On the Serbian side, things look equally bleak. The very name of the Serbian part of Bosnia shows how bizarre things have become. There will be two adjoining republics: the Republika Srpska, or Serbian Republic (in Bosnia), and the Republika Srbija, or Republic of Serbia. Western journalists use the original Srpska title for Radovan Karadzic's fiefdom and the English word Serbia for Mr Milosevic's country in a desperate attempt to help the reader. But the reality is that the two names are separated only by a frightening piece of syntax. It seems likely that the adjectival Srpska Republic will in due course seek to merge with the big-brother Srbija.

Vetoes are built into the New York deal to prevent such secession, which brings us back to where we were in spring 1992, before the war broke out. The Croat-Muslim majority, unwilling to let Bosnia come under the thumb of Mr Milosevic, voted for the independence of a multi-ethnic Bosnia; the well-armed Bosnian Serbs wanted to break away, to be with Serbia.

A few years ago, the incongruity of the present deal might not have mattered. "Bosnian" was a real concept for most Yugoslavs - as easy to grasp as "American", when talking about ethnic Italians, Irish or Poles. Bosnian Serbs were as conscious of their "Bosnian" identity as they were of their Serb identity. That is long gone. For the deal to work out, tolerance on all sides is needed. But the politicians - Messrs Milosevic, Karadzic, Tudjman - have destroyed the possibility of tolerance in the past three years.

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
peopleIggy Azalea was left red faced but apparently unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Extras
indybest

Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
film
Sport
sport
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition