Saving Sarajevo: Tudjman losing support for carve-up of country: Muslim advances bring calls for change in policy on partition and opposition groups seek government of 'national unity'

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The Independent Online
CROATIA's President, Franjo Tudjman, is under increasing domestic pressure to end Zagreb's support for irredentist Croats in Herzegovina and to abandon his plans to share in a carve-up of Bosnia. However, Croatia's 'founding father' is showing no signs of yielding to ever-louder demands for a policy reversal.

Bosnian Croats and Muslim-led government forces were nominal allies against the Bosnian Serbs at the start of the war, but vicious fighting between them for territory in central Bosnia destroyed that alliance. Croats have since joined Serbs in fighting the Muslims, but recent advances by the Bosnian government forces and signs of tension in the Croat-Serb alliance have intensified calls for Mr Tudjman to change course.

On Wednesday, leaders of Croatia's 15 opposition parties united for the first time to oppose Mr Tudjman's aim of Bosnian partition. 'Croatia's policy towards Bosnia-Herzegovina needs a turnabout,' Drazen Budisa, the leader of the main opposition Social-Liberal Party told the daily Vecernje List. 'It is not too late to reach the agreement with Muslims,' he was quoted as saying.

He added that opposition leaders also proposed that a government of national unity should be formed, so that 'Bosnia policy and other national issues are agreed upon a multiparty consensus'.

Drago Stipac, the leader of the Peasant Party, the third biggest opposition group, said the 15 parties had the support of Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, the head of Croatia's Roman Catholic Church, one of the most important driving forces in Croatian politics. The Archbishop's backing sets the stage for a possible confrontation between the Church, which speaks for the vast majority of Catholic Croats, and extremists from Herzegovina who hold influential positions in the ruling party, the government and the army.

Led most visibly by the Defence Minister, Gojko Susak, the so-called 'Herzegovina lobby' wants to join west Herzegovina to the Croatian state. Most Croats, however, show no desire to annex the area and resent what they see as the extremists' domination of Croatian politics. According to one Croatian political analyst in London, Mr Tudjman's support for the Herzegovina lobby over the objections of the majority of Croats, 'could be his ultimate Achilles' heel'.

Former associates say Mr Tudjman is obsessed with the division of Bosnia and reluctant to abandon Herzegovina hardliners because their financial support helped propel him to power. He rejected the opposition's proposals. 'Those who propose changes in policy seek to destabilise both Croatia and the ruling party,' the steering committee of his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) said.

The statement, however, masks the fact that a growing number of influential HDZ party members - most importantly Mr Tudjman's military adviser, General Anton Tus - also oppose Zagreb's present role in the Bosnian war. There has been a spate of reports in recent weeks of HDZ officials and leading industrialists queuing to see the President to demand the abandonment of Croatia's 'co-aggression' policy in Bosnia.

Critics fear that carving up Bosnia will set a precedent for the dismemberment of Croatia, which still has its own festering territorial dispute. Serbian rebels control a third of the republic's territory and want to join their Bosnian brethren in creating a Greater Serbia. There are also many Croats who believe Zagreb's continued support for Croatian extremists in Bosnia will result in international sanctions on Zagreb which would bury the Croatian economy.

(Photograph omitted)