Muslims demand more at Geneva: Bosnian government refuses map rewarding gains from 'ethnic cleansing' - Peace-keepers trapped in Mostar for fourth day

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The Independent Online
THE BOSNIAN parliament has authorised a delegation to return to Geneva peace talks with Serbian and Croatian leaders and the two international mediators. Claiming that they desperately wanted peace, but were unable to endorse the fruits of Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' by accepting the partition plan of Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, Bosnian Muslim leaders put forward strict conditions intended both to shame the West, and to engage it in any final settlement.

The first demand which the Bosnians will place in front of the Geneva meeting today is that the mediators return to the principles of the London Conference on former Yugoslavia, staged last year. These, as well as several UN Security Council resolutions, rule out territorial conquest by force or by 'ethnic cleansing'.

The Muslim-led delegation will then demand that the map dividing Bosnia into three ethnic mini-states be altered to embrace these same principles, especially in eastern Bosnia.

This means awarding former Muslim majority towns which are now held by Bosnian Serbs to the future Muslim Republic, and also providing access for the landlocked Muslim statelet to the Adriatic Sea through the Croatian-held port of Neum.

The Bosnians will go on to demand that the US and Nato guarantee the enforcement of any agreement which is finally hammered out in Geneva by the three warring parties. 'Without firm guarantees, especially from the US, that they will participate in a peace settlement, the agreement will be worthless - it will just not be respected,' said Miro Lazovic, the president of the Bosnian parliament. He added that reaffirming the principles established by the London Conference was a 'sine qua non' for the Bosnian delegation's assent to any plan.

'We are just asking the international community to respect its own resolutions,' he said. 'These documents say they will never recognise conquest by force or ethnic cleansing.' He concluded: 'We are not setting any ultimatum, we are open for negotiations and for compromise. But no one can put his signature under an agreement which will bring into doubt the survival of Bosnia as a state. That is the limit under which we will not go.'

The list of conditions which the Bosnian delegation will take to Geneva will disappoint the two mediators. They believe the plan they presented last week is the last chance to avoid a cataclysm. They have lost no opportunity to warn the Bosnian Muslims that they risk losing the 30 per cent of Bosnia which they stand to obtain under the plan if they opt to continue fighting with the much better-armed Serbs.

The Bosnians themselves are under no illusion about the weakness of their military position. The Bosnian government has been warned by its own commanders how tenuous is the hold of the army over the 10 per cent of Bosnia which it holds.

In spite of a lot of grumbling at the prospect of having to surrender some conquered territory to the Muslims, the Bosnian Serb parliament meeting at Pale, near Sarajevo, endorsed the Owen-Stoltenberg plan. Bosnian Croats also backed the deal, at the same time proclaiming their former autonomous region of Herzeg-Bosnia an independent republic.

The Bosnian government's conditional 'yes' is an accurate gauge of the feelings of most Sarajevans about the offer. They want peace, they cannot accept 'ethnic cleansing' and they insist that war crimes be punished. 'It is like asking the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to accept Hitler's peace terms in 1943,' said Gordana Knezevic, the ethnic Serb editor of Oslobodjenje. 'Of course it would be nice to have peace but how can one accept the conditions of one's tormentors?'