West ready to give Gorazde to the Serbs

TURMOIL IN THE BALKANS: COMMENTARY; Redrawing the map: Trouble looms for minorities throughout former Yugoslavia as new peace ideas come to terms with ethnic cleansing
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Western governments, which have publicly deplored the forcible redistribution of nationalities in former Yugoslavia, are quietly reshaping their peace proposals to take account of the realities created by "ethnic cleansing". The latest example concerns Gorazde, an enclave on the Drina river that is the only place in eastern Bosnia still under the control of the Muslim- led Bosnian government.

After the neighbouring Muslim enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa fell last month to Bosnian Serb forces, Western leaders swore that Gorazde must not go the same way. Nato hastily put together a plan calling for big air strikes on the Bosnian Serbs if they dared attack Gorazde.

However, Croatia's capture of the rebel Krajina Serb region, and the subsequent flight of practically the entire Krajina population into Serbia and Serb-held Bosnian land, have changed the outlook for Gorazde. It is seen now as a vulnerable Muslim island in a Serb sea that might be better allocated to the Bosnian Serbs as a way of "cleaning up the map" and achieving a workable peace, say US and British sources.

In return, the Muslim-led government would be offered more land in the Sarajevo area, thus increasing the security of what may turn out to be a rump Bosnian Muslim state. Overall, the Bosnian Serbs would still receive up to 49 per cent of Bosnia, but the lion's share of important towns and economic facilities would go to the Muslims and their Bosnian Croat allies.

The sacrifice of Gorazde is, at this stage, more of an understanding among Western governments than an agreed initiative. After all, Western public opinion might find it odd that the enclave was being given up only a few weeks after Nato was prepared to go to war over it.

Yet "cleaning up the map" is believed to be the idea at the heart of various proposals floated in London yesterday by President Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Anthony Lake. He held talks with officials from Downing Street, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence and was later visiting Paris and Bonn.

It is unlikely that Britain will raise serious objections to the sacrifice of Gorazde. Government ministers and their advisers have held out little long-term hope for Gorazde ever since Serb forces overran most of the Drina valley in 1992, and many were not convinced in their hearts that Nato needed recently to put its reputation on the line over the enclave.

It is obvious that if Gorazde is allocated to the Bosnian Serbs, its Muslim population will not wait for constitutional guarantees of minority rights from their Serb tormentors. They will leave and one more nail will be driven into the coffin of a united, multi-national Bosnian state.

Perhaps, after four years of war in former Yugoslavia and the displacement of more than 2.5 million people, there is no other way to go. But the "cleaning up" of the national maps of Croatia and Bosnia is a process that will place enormous and, in the end, probably intolerable pressure on other parts of former Yugoslavia.

These include the Sandzak, a region straddling Serbia and Montenegro, the province of Kosovo in southern Serbia, and Macedonia. All have substantial minorities whose future does not look promising in the light of the war- induced population movements to their north.

Almost half the Sandzak's 400,000 people are Muslim Slavs, similar in some ways to the Bosnian Muslims but with their own identity. Since the rise of President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia in the late 1980s, they have experienced considerable harassment at the hands of the Serbian authorities.

In Kosovo, where until recently up to 90 per cent of the 2 million people were ethnic Albanians, there has been periodic unrest since 1945, but especially in the past seven years. Mr Milosevic's abolition of Kosovo's autonomy and his creation of a virtual police state in the province have caused more than 250,000 Albanians to leave since 1990, mainly for Germany and the United States.

At the same time, the state-controlled media in Belgrade have suggested Serbia's authorities may try to resettle thousands of Krajina Serb refugees in Kosovo. This would reinforce the Serb presence in a region which is central to the Serb national identity but in which the Serb-Albanian population balance has shifted markedly this century in favour of the Albanians.

In Macedonia, there have been sporadic clashes in recent years between the Slav majority and ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 20 per cent of the 2 million people. Most of the Slavs consider themselves Macedonians by nationality but, to add to the state's troubles, neighbouring Greece and Bulgaria say there is no such thing as a Macedonian nation.