Bosnia leader dithers amid disaster: Marcus Tanner in Belgrade says the time has come for Alija Izetbegovic to wake up to reality

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The Independent Online
TIME is running out for the Bosnian government of Alija Izetbegovic, after the fall of Trnovo on Monday to the Serbs. Mr Izetbegovic's protests that he can never negotiate with Serbs or Croats on the partition of Bosnia look absurd, as he holds less and less land. All hope of Western military intervention has died, but he still believes a unified Bosnia can be rescued from the wreckage.

Some see Mr Izetbegovic as a martyr betrayed by the West, others as a catastrophic leader of his Muslim nation, who clings to office out of vanity. In his short presidency he has made disastrous decisions.

As leader of the devout wing of the Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action he was a fool to put himself forward as president. Only 44 per cent of Bosnians are Muslims. The rest are rural Christians, with strong folk memories of serfdom under 500 years of Turkish rule. To appoint a president best known for writing the Islamic Declaration - advocating an Islamic state in Bosnia - was to wave a red rag to a bull. In office, he failed to allay suspicion by attending a few Serbian or Croatian gatherings.

When Croatia seceded and war broke out, Mr Izetbegovic dithered. The Yugoslav army bombed the town of Listica and razed the village of Ravno in south-west Bosnia. Mr Izetbegovic was nowhere to be seen. This inaction could have made sense if he was cosying up to the Serbs. But he let Bosnia drift towards independence without preparing Muslims for conflict. He was nave not to anticipate that the 31 per cent Serbian community in Bosnia would cause chaos, after seeing the carnage wrought by 11 per cent in Croatia.

He was led on by woolly diplomats like the US ambassador, Warren Zimmerman, saying America would support an independent Bosnia if the Muslims spurned the Croatians' arms-buying. Mr Izetbegovic should have known better than to listen. No Balkan state, from the Serbian uprising in 1804 to the Croatian uprising of 1991, has been born without armed struggle. Slovenia's Milan Kucan knew that. So did Croatia's Franjo Tudjman.

Faced with the break-up of Yugoslavia, Mr Izetbegovic had two choices - to hang in with the Serbs or scarper with the Croats. Staying in Serbo-slavia under Slobodan Milosevic would probably have meant the degradation of Bosnian Muslims to the downtrodden status of the Kosovo Albanians. But they would have stayed alive. The other option was to proceed on the rocky trail to independence in alliance with the Croats, Bosnia's only potential arms supplier. The Serbs would have attacked and Bosnia would have lost a huge chunk of territory, plus a smaller chunk to the Croats. But Mr Izetbegovic would have got his independent mini-Bosnia, with stamps, flags and embassies.

Mr Izetbegovic and his team, ended up battling Serbs and Croats at the same time, an astonishing feat as Muslims and Croats had never before fought each other.

The Sarajevo authorities say they are the victims of a pact between Mr Tudjman and Mr Milosevic to dissect Bosnia. What about Mr Izetbegovic's responsibility? The appointment of Sefer Halilovic as commander of the Bosnian army - a man best known for an active role in the destruction of Vukovar in eastern Croatia, when he was in the Yugoslav army - dashed hope of co-operation between Bosnian Muslim and Croatian fighters. Mr Izetbegovic's last act was to launch an offensive against the Croats which ended with the loss of Zepce and Trnovo.

Bosnia's claim to uphold some superior multi-ethnic concept is nonsense. The Bosnian Croat army is just as multi-ethnic as the Bosnian army. Even the former Muslim commander of Sarajevo, Juka Prazina, has gone over to them. Mr Izetbegovic should now get on with negotiating a decent slice of ex-Bosnia for Muslims.