Bosnian Leader in Dilemma
Izetbegovic tries to cope with divided government, as pressures mount to take position in Geneva talks
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — AS international efforts persist to coax Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic back to peace talks, his government remains deeply divided over a Serb-Croat plan to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina into three ethnic "ministates."
Disputes within the Bosnian presidency over the partition plan appear to account for Mr. Izetbegovic's own indecisiveness.
But his inability to take charge of his government during some 20 days of deliberations here has fostered a sense of drift, raising doubts about his leadership ability among Bosnian troops and citizens already dispirited by 15 months of war, deprivation, and ineffective Western diplomacy.
Izetbegovic forced repeated postponements in a resumption of peace talks last week by refusing to go to Geneva until Bosnian Serb forces halted a savage week-long assault against Sarajevo's outer defenses on Mt. Igman and several other besieged towns.
Mt. Igman, a Bosnian stronghold southwest of the capital, provides key government access routes into Sarajevo.
"Izetbegovic is still trying to decide what he should do," says a local journalist. "This is the biggest problem of Bosnian politics now. This is the man who has the biggest influence in Bosnian politics." The longer the government fails to make crucial decisions about the Serb-Croat partition plan, many here say, the deeper the country will sink toward defeat.
"The political fights in town, the political questions and so on, that's the reason why Igman is happening," a senior commander of the capital defense forces says.
In an attempt to get the Geneva talks back on track, United Nations officials on Saturday brokered a cease-fire accord that called for a suspension of offensive operations across the country. Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military chief who is leading the assault on Mt. Igman, signed the agreement, which went into effect yesterday at 10 a.m. local time.
But like more than two dozen previous cease-fires, the latest accord was not expected to last, leaving in doubt the resumption of talks, which international mediators Lord David Owen of the European Community and Thorvald Stoltenberg of the UN rescheduled in Geneva for tomorrow.
Analysts believe that further delays would suit Izetbegovic.
They say he wants to avoid the talks because the ongoing squabbles in his government have prevented it from formulating a concise counter-proposal to the partition scheme pressed by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, and their Bosnian proxies.
Many Bosnians believe that plan is a cover for a secret agreement between Mr. Milosevic and Mr. Tudjman to divide the country. Both deny the allegation. Divided leadership
Izetbegovic's 10-member presidency of Muslims, Croats, and loyalist Serbs has called for a federation of territories similar to a plan developed by Lord Owen and Mr. Stoltenberg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance, but rejected by the Bosnian Serbs this spring. That plan would have divided Bosnian into 10 ethnic-based provinces bound loosely under a weak central government.
A senior UN official, however, says the presidency has not progressed beyond vague concepts or produced a map of its own proposed federated territories.
And there is a split among the 10 members. The three Croats, whose loyalty lie in Zagreb, one of three Serbs, and Fikret Abdic, a Muslim, back negotiations on the Serb-Croat partition idea. They argue that the Bosnian government should accept the best deal it can to stop 15 months of fighting that has claimed more than 130,000 lives.
Vice President Ejup Ganic, a Muslim, rejects ethnic partition. But he also opposes Izetbegovic's participation in the Geneva talks. He says the Bosnians should fight no matter what the cost in the absence of an accord to preserve a united, multiethnic state.
"Our scream will be heard all over the world," he vows.
The dispute is further complicated by the Bosnian Army, a major political player despite assertions to the contrary. Col. Jovan Divjak, one of the four senior-most commanders, says most officers and soldiers in the main strongholds of Sarajevo and Tuzla want negotiations, but will reject an ethnic division.
"We are for peace, but not if we have to be slaves," says Colonel Divjak, one of thousands of Serbs in the Muslim-dominated force.
Like his presidency and Army, Izetbegovic, a Muslim, is himself divided. Once a fierce opponent of the Serb-Croat plan because of the new waves of "ethnic cleansing" he says it would unleash, he recently suggested it might have to be accepted in the absence of a concrete alternative.
That has deeply disturbed Muslims, Serbs, and Croats fighting together to save Bosnia's integrity and multiethnicity, the ideal that has sustained their uphill struggle against the conquests of roughly 85 percent of the republic by the ultranationalist forces backed by Serbia and Croatia.
"There is a kind of anger," a senior military commander says. Partition as last hope
Many worry Izetbegovic is aligning with a tiny but powerful faction of politicians and Army officers who see partition as a last hope to save what little territory remains for a Muslim population decimated and scattered by war.
"Sometimes I wonder what Izetbegovic wants. He tells us something, but then something else happens," says Mirko Kurilic, a Serb loyal to the Bosnian leadership who is a shipping broker.
But Izetbegovic's defenders assert that his indecision is due mainly to the presidency feud and increasing international pressure on him to compromise.
Kemal Kurspahic, the editor of the Oslobodjenje newspaper, argues that Izetbegovic is trapped in a deep moral dilemma over an ethnic partition.
"He faces a double responsibility," Mr. Kurspahic says. "He will legalize the crimes and ethnic cleansing and killing that have already happened and the responsibility for what will happen because there will be another wave of ethnic cleansing."
Izetbegovic is not alone in his dilemma. Many Sarajevans are growing tired of death, bombardments, hunger, and weeks without electricity and water, and look ahead with greater horror at the bitter hardships of the coming winter.
"People will accept any solution now as long as the shooting stops," asserted Marija, a pharmacist, as she waited at the Sarajevo airport for a UN flight to Italy, whose citizenship she gained because her father was born there.
Marella's father, however, chose to stay in their front-line neighborhood of Mojmilo. "He wants to fight," she says.