Croats and Muslims seal their alliance

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The Independent Online
BOSNIA'S Muslims and Croats sealed their alliance yesterday by appointing a member of each nationality to lead the new Muslim- Croat federation whose ambition is to recapture land lost to the Serbs in the 25-month war.

Kresimir Zubak, 46, the leader of the Bosnian Croats, was made president of the federation. Ejup Ganic, 48, a senior Muslim politician, became vice-president. The appointments signalled the political eclipse of Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim lawyer and former dissident who became president of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1990, proclaimed the republic's independence in 1992, and then saw war tear apart his homeland.

Mr Izetbegovic was the bete noire of the Bosnian Serbs, who accused him of aiming to create a fundamentalist Muslim state in Europe. He was also attacked by fellow Muslim politicians, who charged him with mishandling both the war effort and negotiations.

The most powerful Muslim leader now is the Prime Minister, Haris Silajdzic, who has improved the efficiency of Bosnia's armed forces and ended a year-long war with the Croats. He opposes Bosnia's partition along national lines and argues that the United Nations should lift its arms embargo on the Muslims so that Serbian territorial gains can be reversed.

Speaking in Sarajevo, Mr Silajdzic said his government would boycott peace talks in Geneva tomorrow unless Serbian forces withdrew from a UN exclusion zone around the eastern Muslim town of Gorazde. UN peace-keepers say that about 150 Serbian soldiers, wearing police uniforms in an effort to disguise their true role, are still in the two-mile zone around the town centre.

UN officials hope that the Geneva talks will produce agreement on a four-month ceasefire across Bosnia and facilitate progress towards a full territorial and political settlement. However, a gulf separates the negotiating positions of the Muslim-Croat alliance, the Serbs and the outside world.

The Muslims and Croats said this month that they wanted their federation to include 58 per cent of pre-war Bosnia. Western countries and Russia are proposing only 51 per cent, with 49 per cent going to the Bosnian Serbs.

The Serbs currently control about 70 per cent of Bosnia and, while they have hinted at a willingness to give up some gains, they reject the maps proposed both by the Muslim-Croat alliance and by Western and Russian diplomats. 'We could accept 49 per cent of former Bosnia-Herzegovina's territory, but in that case they should give us Tuzla and Sarajevo,' said the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, referring to the largest cities under Bosnian control.

With little prospect of success at Geneva, the war seems certain to continue into the summer, pitting Serbian forces against Muslims and Croats who believe their newly combined strength can begin to turn the tide.