FOJNICA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — IN calmer days, the leaders of this half-Muslim, half-Croat town got together and signed an agreement declaring it a ``zone of peace.''
That was about two months ago, when the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina were still allies. Lt. Gen. Philippe Morillon was commander of UN forces in the former Yugoslav republic, and he said Fojnica should be an example to the rest of the country.
But today half the town lies in ruins, and the Croats have all fled. Fojnica's sorry state is instead a powerful example of the forces that have torn this country apart, and with the Geneva peace talks once again crumbling, of the difficulties involved in trying to quiet the guns by moving lines on a map.
The Geneva talks collapsed over disagreements on a proposal to partition Bosnia into three ethnic republics under a weak central government. The three sides could not agree on a proposed map, which the Bosnian government said gave too much territory to the Bosnian Serbs and rewarded their aggression.
With no viable plan on the table, the concern now is that fighting could intensify between the Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia, a fate that has already befallen Fojnica.
Cradled in a beautiful valley flanked by pine-clad mountains, the town's residents tried hard to withstand the divisiveness of ethnic war.
The Rev. Nikica Milicevic, guardian of Bosnia's oldest Franciscan monastery, which looms over the town, and Imam Ramiz Effendi Pasic of the Muslim community were of one mind. So too were the town's Croat and Muslim political leaders, and the local commanders of the Bosnian Croat army (known by the Serbo-Croatian acronym HVO) and the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army.
Communal trust among those groups survived the first 15 months of war only to be shattered in mid-July, when the upsurge in Muslim-Croat fighting in central Bosnia finally rolled into Fojnica.
Within two days, the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army had won control, and the Croats had fled. Many Croat homes were torched. The nearby furniture factories, from which both communities prospered, also went up in flames during the battle.
The local commander of the Bosnian Army, Nihad Kamenjas, blames the breakdown on the HVO, accusing it of using the ``zone of peace'' agreement to buy time while preparing to take over the area.
But United Nations observers who monitored the area at the time say the Bosnian forces took the initiative, launching a well-organized, long-planned attack to take control of what is an important strategic area.
``The town controls the main route to the valleys of central Bosnia, and if the Bosnian government was to have that area, it had to control Fojnica,'' one UN source says. ``The locals really did want to keep this town together, but in the end they could not resist outside pressures and the wider demands of the war.''
Furthermore, they may not be able to reverse the wider effects of that fighting.
An old Muslim woman, bent double under a sackful of belongings, limps into town with her son and bursts into tears as she recounts how she fled her own home in Rogatica.
Just as the Croats of Fojnica have flooded into nearby Kiseljak and other areas controlled by the HVO, their town has become a magnet for Muslims displaced from their own homes.
Already, at least half the houses in Fojnica belonging to the 5,500 or so Croats who fled Fojnica have been taken over by Muslim refugees.
That will make it even more difficult and complicated for the Croats to return, as all refugees would supposedly have had the right to do under the proposed partition plan that collapsed Wednesday night in Geneva.
As has happened in Lebanon, restoring one family to its original home may mean resettling a whole chain of other families.
``I feel very sorry for many of those people,'' says Nasir Selimovic, the Muslim mayor of Fojnica. ``I would like everybody to be able to go back to their homes, not just the Croats here, but the Muslims to Kiseljak as well.''
``All those who did not kill or burn can come back,'' says Dragan Andric, chief of staff of the Bosnian Army's 6th Corps, in whose area Fojnica falls. ``It is up to them if they want to return. The place will be open to all those without blood on their hands.''
Gen. Rasim Delic, commander in chief of the Bosnian Army, insists that any peace plan must include the return of all refugees. He warned that any ``unjust'' plan imposed by international pressures would not be implemented on the ground.
``If the agreement does not include enough space for these units of the union, and the viability of the states to function, then nobody with a piece of paper or an order can stop the people seeking a just solution,'' he said in an interview in Sarajevo.
``There should be enough room for everyone, and those who have been driven out must be allowed to return to their homes,'' he added. ``If this is not provided for, then nobody can guarantee that any agreement will be implemented.''