BELGRADE — AS Yugoslav jets screamed through clear skies to bomb strategic targets west of the city of Mostar on Wednesday, many felt a sense of d vu: the Yugoslav Army rolling into another breakaway republic wracked by ethnic violence.
"The role of the Army is the big question right now," said one senior Western diplomat. "But it has yet to show its true colors. Its bombing raid on Mostar apparently came because of provocation by Croatian forces. But it has not yet been the initiator."
It seems only a question of time, however, before the Serb-led Army becomes more deeply involved in fighting in the former Yugoslav republic, whose independence was recognized this week along with Slovenia and Croatia by the United States and the European Community.
This week, the acting chief of staff for the Yugoslav Army, Col. Gen. Zivota Panic, said that the Army would not withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina as it is doing from Slovenia, Croatia, and Macedonia because 65 percent of its industry and installations are in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The fight in Bosnia-Herzegovina is more complex than in Croatia, however. In Croatia, a sizeable Serb minority was fighting for control of well-defined areas where it lived. In Bosnia, by contrast, there are three minorities who make up the 4.5 million population. Earlier this spring, Croats and Muslims voted for independence but Serbs boycotted. The Serbs have declared a "Serbian Autonomous Bosnia-Herzegovina."
"The immediate ... danger is that it [the Army] will simply allow Serb militants to get away with what they want," says one Western diplomat. "It would probably take activity by the Army to prevent Bosnia's disintegration. But it is just sitting there as Bosnia is effectively being partitioned by militants and outsiders alike."
As violence grows, he says, the Army may be tempted to get directly involved. "In Bosnia it does not face the well-organized army that it did in Croatia and the temptation may be too great even though at this stage it is showing reluctance," he says.
Though EC officials had been making headway with leaders of the three nationalities over a plan to divide Bosnia into Swiss-style cantons, the plan fell apart because the leaders could not agree on the boundaries of those cantons.
Cyrus Vance, the United Nations' special envoy to Yugoslavia, said yesterday that US and EC recognition of the breakaway republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina had damaged the peace process.
The UN peacekeeping forces in neighboring Croatia may also be drawn into this new upsurge in violence in what was Yugoslavia. The 14,000 UN troops now arriving only in Croatia have a mandate to keep the peace in Croatia. But UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is to ask the UN Security Council to consider extending the UN peacekeeping mission to Bosnia. He is likely to face objections: the troops are intended as peacekeepers, not peacemakers, and the peace has already been disturbed in Bosnia.