Mladic set to fulfil Serbian dreams

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The Independent Online
TO A Western eye, the inexorable Serbian shelling of the eastern Bosnian Muslim enclave of Gorazde may look like a meaningless assertion of military superiority, a hideous bullying of a town whose defences have already fallen. But from the Serbian point of view, there is method in the madness.

The Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic, recently offered a succinct definition of Serbian strategy in the two-year- old Bosnian war. 'My goal is simple,' he said. 'It is the protection of Serbian territory and of the people who have lived there for centuries.

'The Serbian borders are where Serbian blood has been shed, the blood of each and every Serbian soldier and officer, not just in this war but in previous ones. This war will be over when the Muslims hand over their weapons to me.'

General Mladic was describing the Serbs' maximum ambition: the creation of an enlarged Serbian state stretching from the Romanian border to the Adriatic coast, a land that would include Serbia, more than half of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a sizeable chunk of Croatia, and Montenegro.

There is no room in this vision for UN-protected Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia such as Gorazde. Like other towns that had a Muslim majority before April 1992, Gorazde must be under absolute Serbian domination. Muslims who object will be killed, expelled or driven into a ghetto existence. Serbian control of the enclave also means control of an important road linking Serb-held areas of southern and eastern Bosnia. It means military security for the future Greater Serbia.

General Mladic's dream is shared by Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb civilian leader, and by Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic. Indeed, the hope of incorporating all Serbs into a single state has been one factor shaping the Serbian identity since the mid-19th century.

However, the Bosnian Serb leaders have not always seen eye to eye with Mr Milosevic on the best way to fulfil this aim. For example, Mr Milosevic, anxious to secure an end to United Nations sanctions on Serbia and to avoid provoking the West too much, has ignored appeals from the Bosnian Serbs to introduce a common currency in Serbian, Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb territory.

For his part, Mr Karadzic is adamant that the Bosnian Serbs will not join the Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia that was established under the influence of the United States last month. 'Our goal is clear: we are striving for full independence for the Bosnian Serb state, which will then decide whether to form associations with others and in what form,' he said last weekend.

Mr Karadzic also warned that, if Croatia and the Muslim-Croat state tried to sever the northern Bosnian land corridor linking Serbia with Serb-held parts of Bosnia and Croatia, then the Bosnian Serbs would have an answer. 'We would immediately declare our unification with the Republic of Serbian Krajina,' he said, referring to the swathe of Croatia controlled by rebel Serbs since the war in 1991.