Croatia and Bosnia join to put pressure on West

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The Independent Online
CROATIA and Bosnia put pressure on the West yesterday to intervene in the Yugoslav civil wars, after agreeing to launch joint military operations against Serbian forces if international efforts failed to halt the carnage. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim President of Bosnia-Herzegovina, signed the accord on Tuesday in the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Soon after the announcements, at 1am local time yesterday, mortar and heavy artillery fire fell on districts west of Sarajevo near the airport, which United Nations forces opened three weeks ago. The fighting suggested that Friday's truce, signed in London by Bosnia's Serbian, Croatian and Muslim leaders, was as meaningless as its predecessors.

The UN commander in Sarajevo, General Lewis MacKenzie, has blamed all sides, saying he has evidence that they shell their own forces in an effort to blacken their enemy's image. He despaired at the fighting, saying: 'God protect us from ceasefires. It seems whenever we have a ceasefire, the level of fighting goes up.'

The Zagreb agreement appears to have been designed partly to persuade the UN, the European Community and the United States to take more vigorous action against the Serbs, who control about 60 per cent of Bosnia's territory and hold about 25 per cent of Croatia.

It is hoped that the agreement will calm tensions between the Croats and Muslims, which have been increasing over the past three months. The Muslims were angered by an agreement signed in early May by Serbian and Croatian leaders in Bosnia, which envisaged the republic's partition into two distinct Serbian and Croatian sections. That agreement was translated into reality in early July, when the Croats announced the creation of an autonomous region of Herzeg-Bosnia to match the earlier Serbian proclamation of a Serbian Republic of Bosnia- Herzegovina. The Muslims, who made up 44 per cent of Bosnia's pre-war population, compared with 31 per cent for the Serbs and 17 per cent for the Croats, were left with almost no territory under these arrangements.

Although the Croats and Muslims have been nominal allies since the Bosnian war broke out in April, the Croats have often seemed more keen on pursuing their own aims. From their base in Herzeg-Bosnia, which borders Croatia's Adriatic coast, they have pushed into the heart of Bosnia and are now only a few miles from Sarajevo. Clashes have erupted between Croatian and Muslim forces in areas west of Sarajevo.

Such is the Croatian grip on Herzeg-Bosnia that Croatian money has circulated there for some months and the Croatian flag flies over public buildings. Mr Tudjman denies any ambition to annex this region, but he has spoken publicly of Croatia as 'the guardian of the Croatian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina', just as Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic, used to say that his republic could not abandon Bosnia's Serbs as a minority in a Muslim- led republic.

Mr Tudjman's agreement with Mr Izetbegovic enables the Croatian leader to suggest he has settled his differences with the Muslims, and to justify and consolidate Croatian control of Herzeg-Bosnia. For their part, the Muslims are under no illusions about the underhand games all sides are capable of playing. But, as the chief losers in the civil war, they have little choice but to sign any agreement that offers hope.

Who is Milan Panic?, page 25

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