NEW YORK — THE Muslim-led government of Bosnia-Herzegovina faces one of its toughest choices in the 17-month war.
International mediators say that when peace talks resume in Geneva on Aug. 30, Bosnia's three warring factions should sign a peace plan that would divide the former Yugoslav republic into three ethnic republics.
The Bosnian Serb and Croat factions have basically accepted the plan, which would give the Muslims, who accounted for roughly 40 percent of the prewar population, about 30 percent of the land. But Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who sought 40 percent of the land for his side, says the plan gives the Muslims too little territory and rewards Serb aggression.
Despite his dissatisfaction, Mr. Izetbegovic says, he will submit the plan to the Bosnian parliament.
The Bosnian Serbs now control about 70 percent of Bosnia, and while NATO's threats of UN-authorized airstrikes prodded the Serbs to halt their advance on Sarajevo, the major powers have shown no inclination to intervene militarily to reverse Serb gains. Lord David Owen, the European Community negotiator, and Thorvald Stoltenberg of the UN say the new division of territory is the best they can do.
"Time is on the side of the Bosnian Serbs and Croats," says John Moore, director of the International Institute of George Mason University in Virginia. "The Bosnian Muslims are steadily losing ground both literally and figuratively."
Mr. Stoltenberg is expected in New York early this week to brief the UN secretary-general and the Security Council on the latest round of talks.
The week-long pause in the talks may work in favor of the plan. UN expert Claude Innis says that recesses in diplomatic negotiations have a way of making proposals more acceptable to the parties involved. Dr. Innis, professor emeritus of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, says he doubts that Izetbegovic's tentative plan to come to New York this week to consult with the Security Council and the General Assembly will lead to any change in the plan's proposed map, which outlines t he division of territory.
"I think the world has pretty well made up its mind that it's not going to combat the Serbs on this and that the only hope for the Bosnians is to take what they can and go on," he says.
But the Bosnian president may well succeed in shaming the UN, Innis adds, much as Emperor Haile Selassie did when he chided the League of Nations in the 1930s for failing to prevent Italy's conquest of Ethiopia.
Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, has described the proposed Izetbegovic visit as an attempt to discover the UN's "bottom line" on Bosnia's position in the world community. The UN has betrayed many of its basic principles on territorial integrity, genocide, and refugee rights, he says.
Distant negotiations in Geneva have allowed Security Council members to escape responsibility, he adds. "A vacuum has been allowed to develop that is disastrous for Bosnia and shameful for the international community."
"The Security Council itself is very much divided on all this; most members just want it over with," observes Janusz Bugajski, a specialist on Eastern Europe with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Rather than focus Council attention on the deficiencies of the map, he says, Izetbegovic should use his time at the UN to secure a firm commitment to rebuild Bosnia and implement the peace package.
The job is sure to be a mammoth one, ranging from demilitarizing troops to overseeing pullbacks from conquered land to protecting human rights. Estimates of needed manpower range from 40,000 to 70,000.
Both Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, long regarded as primary aggressors in the Bosnian conflict, are eager for a settlement.
For Croatia, the possibility of economic sanctions acts as a prod. The Serbs are feeling the bite of UN sanctions in everything from rapidly rising inflation to unemployment.
Milorad Unkovic, foreign trade minister of the rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro, came to New York last week to appeal to both UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN and current Security Council president, to end the sanctions. The Yugoslav economy has suffered $25 billion in damage, he says.
Even if Izetbegovic endorses the plan when he returns to Geneva Aug. 30, analysts warn that the fighting in Bosnia may not necessarily end. "I think the Muslims have been so badly damaged by all this that they would in some way strike back," Dr. Moore says.