Dismay at Bosnia partition plan

Click to follow
SERBS, Croats and Muslims reacted with contempt, dismay and suspicion yesterday to the latest international proposals for ending the two-year-old Bosnian war. Each side had scarcely a good word for the plan, suggesting that its future is in doubt less than a week after it was launched.

Foreign ministers from the United States, Russia and the European Union agreed in Geneva last Friday to endorse an initiative that would allocate 49 per cent of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Bosnian Serbs, and 51 per cent to a recently formed Muslim-Croat federation. It was the first joint proposal from Washington, Moscow and the Europeans for dividing Bosnia. They intended to pressurise the combatants into a settlement, by making clear they could no longer exploit disagreements among the world's leading countries.

However, just as the great powers were unanimous in supporting the plan, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims were unanimous in criticising it. The Serbs, who control 70 per cent of Bosnia, showed no interest even in rejoining peace talks unless a truce was declared, and unless fresh negotiations were linked to an easing of United Nations sanctions on Serbia.

The Muslims and Croats, who recently ended a year-long war in central and southern Bosnia, displayed a sense of betrayal. In Vienna last Wednesday, only two days before the great powers produced their proposal for a 51-49 per cent carve-up, the Muslims and Croats had unveiled a plan that would give their new federation 58 per cent of Bosnia. Both sides believed this plan had the support of the US, which had put strong pressure on them to form the federation in the first place.

The Croatian newspaper Vjesnik, which reflects government thinking, said: 'Can Zagreb trust in American help? How come the US in Vienna supported the Muslim-Croat federation getting 58 per cent of Bosnian territory, but a few days later in Geneva supported the 'realistic European position' of 51 per cent?'

The Bosnian Croat leader, Kresimir Zubak, suggested that his side could be flexible, since the most important point was not the percentage of territory given to the Muslim-Croat federation, but its quality in terms of economic and other resources.

Muslim leaders criticised the international plan on the grounds that it rewarded the Serbs with territory from which they had expelled civilian Muslim communities. They said they were cautious about resuming peace talks, because in the past the Serbs had launched attacks to create pressure at the negotiating table.

The end of the war against the Croats has enabled the Muslims to concentrate their forces more effectively against the Serbs. The Muslims draw comfort from the US Senate's vote last week to lift the arms ban on their forces, even though it was hedged with important qualifications.

The Muslim-Croat demand for 58 per cent of Bosnia has fallen on deaf Serbian ears. This plan would isolate certain Serbian areas of Bosnia by creating a Croatian canton in the north, and Muslim cantons in the east. The Serbs have never relaxed their drive for control of a continuous stretch of land from Serbia through Bosnia to Serb-held areas of Croatia.

(Photograph and map omitted)