Bosnia: Serbs frown on Bosnia brethren

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The Independent Online
THESE DAYS just the glimpse of a licence plate from the self- styled Bosnian Serb Republic is sufficient to draw sneers from some people in Belgrade. 'The idiots. They are holding the rest of us hostage,' one young man commented as a red car with two men dressed in battle fatigues turned a corner in central Belgrade yesterday. Its BCP number-plate clearly identified it as hailing from Pale, the 'capital' of the Bosnian Serb Republic.

A week ago such a comment would have been rare, indeed almost unheard of. Serbs from Bosnia were portrayed as brothers, living under the constant threat of annihilation at the hands of fundamentalist Muslims and fascist Croats, unfairly blamed by the West for a war that was not their fault.

But since Bosnia's Serbs thumbed their noses at world opinion on Monday by rejecting the peace plan drawn up by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance and triggering new sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro, people have increasingly started to change their tune. And they are not singing it only in the streets.

For the past three days, Serbs from many political persuasions have been virtually cascading into the studios of the news shows that dominate Yugoslavia's main television station, Channel 1, to air their views on what a huge mistake it was for their brethren in Bosnia to have rejected 'Vance-Owen'.

'The last round of David Owen's visit here on Sunday to get the Bosnian Serbs to agree to the plan did something here,' said Predrag Simic, the director of the Institute for International Studies. 'There was optimism that they would sign, but only at the last minute to save face.' Mr Simic said the rejection disappointed many people weary of the war in Bosnia, and Belgrade's pariah status.

'These people are now saying, 'Yes, Bosnian Serbs are our brothers and we should not let them down, but at the same time they should behave themselves because we are the ones who have to pay'.'

A poll published in the daily Borba yesterday said 39.4 per cent of 300 people questioned throughout Serbia on Tuesday supported the Vance-Owen plan, 37.6 per cent opposed it and 23 per cent were undecided. Political analysts say such a split in public opinion may pave the way for a dangerous showdown between moderates who see the need for a political solution to the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and radicals who support the war for a 'Greater Serbia'.

And yesterday the Serbian assembly in Belgrade passed a motion urging their brethren in Bosnia to reconsider their rejection. Only members of the Serbian Radical Party of the ultra- hardliner, Vojislav Seselj, have defended the rejection. They say Yugoslav leaders had no right to tell Bosnian Serbs what to do.