The Sarajevo Bombing: Complexity of Yugoslav wars confuses West

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THE Serbian siege of Sarajevo is but one aspect of the Yugoslav wars, which pit Serbs against Muslims, Muslims against Croats, Croats against Serbs and rival factions in each camp against one another. The complexity of the conflicts, coupled with uncertainty over what sort of Balkan arrangements should follow the wars, explain why Western governments are reluctant to commit themselves to stronger action.

The core Yugoslav conflict is between Serbs and Croats who, though collaborators in the partition of Bosnia, are at daggers drawn over the status of the Serbian-populated borderlands of Croatia. The Serb-Croat war began in earnest in June 1991 and resulted in the Serbian capture of about 30 per cent of Croatian territory. A UN-brokered ceasefire took effect in January 1992, but sporadic fighting has continued.

The Bosnian war, which erupted in April 1992, developed two main trends last year. The first was the consolidation of Serbian control over eastern Bosnia, where Muslims were reduced to three vulnerable enclaves - Gorazde, Zepa and Srebrenica. Bosnian Muslim leaders will not accept a peace accord that rewards Serbian expulsions of Muslim communities in eastern Bosnia.

The second trend was the collapse of the Muslim-Croat alliance and the subsequent string of Muslim victories over the Croats in central Bosnia. These successes demonstrated that the Muslims are far from a spent force on the battlefield.

It is the Muslim-Croat war, not the siege of Sarajevo, that is largely responsible for the obstacles to the UN aid operation in central and southern Bosnia. A problem in negotiations has been Croatia's refusal to allow the Muslims access to the Adriatic at Neum, which is ethnically Croatian but legally part of Bosnia.

Each side suffers from internal divisions. The Muslim-led government in Sarajevo was rocked last September by a revolt in Bihac in north-western Bosnia led by Fikret Abdic, a local businessman. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia is under fierce domestic attack for trying to carve up Bosnia; critics say this policy has distracted attention from the goal of regaining Serbian- held parts of Croatia.

President Slobodan Milosevic, though in broad agreement with his Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb allies on the objective of uniting all Serbs in one state, has had serious disputes over the degree of Serbia's support for its client states.