Leading Article: A flawed map, and no settlement

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ANOTHER map, another deadline, another conference: the Bosnian war looks as insoluble as ever. Understandably, neither side in the war is enthusiastic about the latest map. For the Serbs it would mean giving up conquered territory, cutting their share of Bosnia from the 70 per cent they now hold to 49 per cent. That would not be easy to explain to the deluded people of Serbia. For the Bosnian government, accepting the map would mean legitimising the Serbian conquests and ethnic cleansing that the so-called international community has always said were unacceptable.

The Bosnian government has the stronger moral and political case. It has been the victim of savage aggression, organised and supported from outside. The fact that its forces have committed atrocities does not affect the fundamental legitimacy of its position. But justice long ago ceased to be the main issue in this struggle. The search is now for something that might work.

The trouble with this map is not only that it is manifestly unjust but that it is probably unworkable - partly because it is unjust and will therefore not be fully accepted by people on the ground. But also because it is too delicately balanced, too dependent on mutual understanding, rigorous observance and effective enforcement - none of which is likely to be forthcoming. Its subtle arrangements for corridors and free passage could be disrupted by one drunken policeman, recalcitrant official or trigger-happy conscript. Cruder arrangements might have a better chance, enabling each side to point to clear gains and losses, rather than having to maintain a web of compromises.

Even then, however, the chances of success would be modest. This war is being decided by force and perceptions of force. The Bosnian army has been growing stronger, acquiring arms in spite of the embargo. It is, on average, much younger than the Serbian army and is better motivated, seeing itself as fighting for the liberation of its country. It has hopes of improving its position. Yet the Serbian forces have the confidence of being backed by the still formidable power of Serbia. Neither side, therefore, is ready to give up easily. Even their signatures on an agreement would not necessarily end the war. The Serbs, in particular, have never taken their own signatures seriously.

It would be wrong to give up hope altogether. The carrots and sticks wielded by the five-nation 'contact group' are not negligible, and the Serbs must be sobered to find the Russians working with the Americans. At some point the moment for settlement will arrive. It seems unlikely to have arrived quite yet, however.