NEW YORK — SARAJEVO symbolizes the complexity of dividing Bosnia-Herzegovina between warring Croats, Muslims, and Serbs.
The capital is so important to all three factions that the international negotiators in Geneva have suggested letting the United Nations run the city for at least a year while the three factions consider a solution. It appears the suggestion, made by Lord David Owen of the European Community and Thorvald Stoltenberg of the UN, may be accepted.
The three sides agreed in principle on Aug. 16 to make Sarajevo a UN-administered area. But as John Mills, a spokesman for the mediators, says, "Nothing has been signed, nothing is in concrete." Instead, a smaller working group from the three parties is hashing out the details of jurisdiction.
The Bosnians seem to be interested in the interim solution since it prevents a partitioning of the city. Serb nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic has talked about dividing the city, with his faction getting some of the suburbs and half of the city center.
UN administration "means there is a still a chance Sarajevo could be the capital of a Bosnian state," says Janusz Bugajski, associate director of East European studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
WHILE the working group tries to flesh out the details, the negotiators continued difficult negotiations on the future boundaries of the three ethnic ministates that will be loosely joined together.
Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic met with Mr. Karadzic on Aug. 17 to discuss the future of Muslim enclaves such as Gorazde and Srebrenica, both of which have been surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces in the eastern part of the former Yugoslav republic. Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban also held talks with Mr. Izetbegovic Aug. 17 on the borders of the three ethnic republics.
"This could go on for several weeks," Mr. Bugajski says. "We are talking about key cities, communication lines, the most productive parts of the country." Mr. Mills calls this phase of the negotiations the most difficult.
While the negotiations have resumed after a two-week hiatus, UN officials say the conditions in Sarajevo are improving slightly. The Serbs have withdrawn from two strategic peaks above the capital and shelling has slowed down. But snipers continue to terrorize the population.
Two roads have been opened into the city, permitting the UN to deliver 35,000 gallons of diesel fuel. This will be used by the city's hospitals, to run water pumps, and to allow the city's only remaining bakery to resume operations. In addition, the Serbs have opened the flow of a small volume of natural gas and work crews are repairing electric lines. "The situation is better than it has been in months," Mills reports.
The US says it is continuing to watch Sarajevo closely. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has warned the Serbs that they must allow greater access of UN relief convoys to Muslim areas or face NATO airstrikes. Western officials are worried that food supplies will not be sufficient to get the war-weakened Muslims through the upcoming Balkan winter.
James Rubin, a spokesman for the US mission to the UN, says any agreement on Sarajevo is "one small but important part of the puzzle."
Balkan watchers agree that it is too early for optimism. If the Serbs lift their siege of Sarajevo, "I'm more concerned that they will consolidate their gains in the countryside around the city," says John Bolton, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute in Washington.
In addition, Mr. Bolton says, the relative calm in Sarajevo allows the Bosnian Serbs to begin to lay the military groundwork to help their ethnic brethren in Croatia. "From the Serbian point of view, there are plenty of interests out there other than Sarajevo," says Bolton, who was an assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration.