Serbs meet to vote on peace proposal

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament meets today to vote on a constitutional plan for Bosnia that may represent the last chance to avert Western military intervention in the war. No matter which way the vote goes, the peace initiatives of the United Nations and the European Community still face obstacles, mainly in the shape of sharp disputes between Serbs, Muslims and Croats over the delineation of Bosnia's post-war internal borders.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said last week he accepted the EC-UN proposal for a single Bosnian state in which most functions of government would rest with 10 autonomous provinces. But he said the plan required the approval of the self-styled parliament at today's meeting in Pale, near Sarajevo.

He described the plan as a bitter pill for the Bosnian Serbs to swallow since, if properly implemented, it would mean the end of the 'Srpska Republic', the state-within-a-state that the Serbs have carved out in Bosnia. The plan would also preclude any attempt to create a Greater Serbia by uniting Bosnian Serb-held lands with Serbia, Montenegro and Serb-occupied parts of Croatia.

'I know that many radical deputies will oppose me. The radicals are rising up because I am too moderate and I make too many unilateral concessions on prisons, peace talks and ceasefires,' Mr Karadzic said.

In truth, the Bosnian Serbs have little to gain by rejecting the plan since that could trigger a UN Security Council resolution allowing military means to enforce a 'no- fly' zone over Bosnia. Although UN officials say that the Croats as well as the Serbs have violated the flight ban in recent weeks, it seems clear that Western governments have decided that the Serbs should be identified as the principal culprits.

To avoid this outcome, the Bosnian Serbs may approve the EC-UN plan, but they are likely to attach the condition that the boundaries of the 10 proposed new provinces are drawn in a way accommodating Serbian interests. In practice, this means allowing the Serbs control of a continuous stretch of territory across northern and eastern Bosnia so that Serbia proper is linked with regions of Croatia that it conquered in 1991. Mr Karadzic, despite his efforts to portray himself as a moderate, describes this condition as 'a matter of life and death' for Bosnia's Serbs.

It is, however, unacceptable to the EC and UN. It is also unacceptable to the Croats, who have been assigned a province in northern Bosnia under the plan, and to the Muslims, who have been given a province in eastern Bosnia. Fighting has been particularly intense in these two areas recently as the Croats and Muslims seek to overrun lands captured by the Serbs since last April.

The Serbs' territorial claims are not the only problem. Although Bosnia's Muslims accepted the EC-UN plan, mainly because it retains the principle of a central government based in Sarajevo, they suspect the Serbs and Croats of seeking to break up most of Bosnia into separate Serbian and Croatian domains. Deep rifts have appeared in the Muslim-Croat relationship, and in the past week the two nominal allies have fought fierce battles in central Bosnia.

Muslim leaders are angry that Bosnia's own Defence Minister, Bozo Rajic, who is a Croat, has ordered Bosnian army units to submit to Croatian control in two western provinces allocated to the Croats under the EC-UN plan.

The order seems a blatant attempt to ensure the provinces remain, in effect, annexed to Croatia. The Muslims suspect that Mr Rajic, who is based in the Croat-controlled city of Mostar, in western Bosnia, and who has never even visited Sarajevo, is more interested in a Greater Croatia than in preserving a united Bosnia.

(Photograph omitted)