Muslims to lose under Yugoslav peace plan

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The Independent Online
THE GENEVA peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina is broadly acceptable to the Croats, less acceptable to the Serbs, and hardly at all acceptable to the Muslims. Its chances of success depend on all three nationalities, but above all the Muslims, making concessions that until now each has regarded as intolerable.

The Croats like the plan because it leaves them in control of western Herzegovina, where they have set up a mini-state called Herzeg-Bosnia that is for all practical purposes annexed to Croatia. The Serbs like the fact that the plan leaves them with about half of Bosnia, but dislike the fact that it prevents them from ruling one continuous stretch of territory. The Muslims dislike the plan because they think it rewards 'ethnic cleansing', or the deportations of hundreds of thousands of their people, and because they fear it paves the way to a Serb-Croat partition of the republic.

Their fears grew last weekend when Franjo Tudjman and Dobrica Cosic, the Presidents of Croatia and the Serbian-led rump Yugoslavia, agreed that Bosnia should become a confederation of three nations. Such an arrangement could mean that one day Bosnia's Croats and Serbs will seek unification with Croatia and Serbia respectively.

The Geneva plan, unveiled by Lord Owen and Cyrus Vance last Saturday, is an attempt to rebuild Bosnia as a decentralised state with most powers in the hands of 10 autonomous provinces. It aims, to some extent, to restore the mixed ethnic communities that characterised Bosnia before the war. Minority rights are to be guaranteed in a new Bosnian constitution and by international monitors. These ideas are similar to the principles that underpinned the EC's 'cantonisation' proposals of early 1992.

But the plan differs from the earlier initiative in that its architects have had to decide how far the boundaries of the 10 provinces should reflect developments in the war over the last nine months. The creation of a large Serbian-controlled province centred on Banja Luka (Number Two on the map), and the establishment of two sizeable Croatian-controlled provinces (Numbers Eight and Ten), look to the Muslims suspiciously like a Western cave-in to Serbian and Croatian expansionism.

So does the creation of a province in north-eastern Bosnia (Number Four) containing Bijeljina, an area that has seen some of the worst Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' of Muslims. The Muslims are unhappy with the allocation to the Serbs of a stretch of land along the Montenegrin border (in province Number Six) where, before the war, Muslims made up 35 to 60 per cent of the population.

However, the Owen-Vance plan does not grant the Serbs control of the entire eastern border of Bosnia; a Muslim-run province (Number Five) would separate two Serbian areas in the north- east and south-east. Moreover, the government of Sarajevo province (Number Seven) would have equal ethnic representation, and the city of Sarajevo would be declared 'open' and demilitarised as soon as possible. This amounts to a rejection of Serbian attempts either to capture Sarajevo or to partition it on ethnic lines.

The proposed powers for the central government are a significant source of dispute. The Muslims want a relatively strong centre, so that the Croats and Serbs cannot break up the state. But Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, wants the Serbian provinces to have a common administration, no doubt so that they can remain closely aligned with Serbia itself. The eventual merger of Serbia and Montenegro with Bosnian Serb territory and Serbian-conquered parts of Croatia is still a Serbian vision.

(Photograph and maps omitted)