Bosnians Appeal to US, UN To Prevent Muslim Losses

But airstrikes, and ending the arms embargo, still remote

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN visiting the United Nations and Washington this week, Bosnia-Herzegovina President Alija Izetbegovic has found plenty of moral support for the plight of his Muslim-led government.

But whether such empathy is enough to force more land concessions from Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs is far from clear. Support appears to be growing in some quarters for ending the conflict at any cost.

Mr. Izetbegovic walked out of the Geneva peace talks Sept. 1 when the two rival warring factions would not accede to his demand for more territory and for land access to the Adriatic Sea. Early this week Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman insisted anew that they would yield no more.

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At present, there is no sign that the international community is ready to intervene militarily to roll back Bosnian Serb and Croat gains.

Many analysts consider the prospect of NATO airstrikes against Bosnian Serbs increasingly remote. ``I just don't see this administration pulling the trigger,'' says John Lampe, director of Eastern European studies at Washington's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Nor does the UN Security Council appear ready to lift the arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia to give Bosnian Muslims fairer access to weapons. The United States and nonaligned nations on the Council have not been able to garner enough support to lift the ban. UN sanctions remain in place against the rump Yugoslav federation of Serbia and Montenegro, but the Council has no direct means of pressuring the Bosnian Serbs. There has been little talk of sanctions on Croatia.

Izetbegovic says he came to the UN only to explain his position to the Council. But he clearly had an agenda. He said the Muslim republic, one of three ethnic ministates proposed in the partition plan that was under negotiation in Geneva, would need to accommodate at least 50 percent of Bosnia's population (including many Croats and Serbs) to be viable. Under the present formula, the Muslim state would get only about 30 percent of the land.

The Bosnian president urged the Council to move quickly to protect six UN-designated Muslim ``safe havens'' and to lift the ``shameful siege'' of Sarajevo, the capital. If the Council is not ready to use airstrikes to end the fighting and to use force against those who block aid deliveries or engage in ``ethnic cleansing,'' he said, a lift of the arms ban should be reconsidered. ``Defend us or let us defend ourselves,'' he insisted.

Standing beside Izetbegovic later in a discussion with reporters, Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic hinted even more strongly that the Council has betrayed Bosnia's Muslim-led government. Mr. Ganic said he personally saw no connection between most Council resolutions - such as those endorsing Bosnia's sovereignty and declaring illegitimate any gains from ``ethnic cleansing'' - and the ``separate show'' in Geneva.

UN mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg should be replaced by someone who would follow the principles of the UN charter more faithfully, he said. ``Our destiny is controlled by the European Community and the United Nations [the groups that mediate the Geneva talks]. For every life lost, the UN and the EC are responsible.''

Izetbegovic had originally agreed to sign the partition plan, but backed off after his parliament rejected it. The Bosnian Croats in particular have complained that the Muslims constantly set new conditions.

``The only way Izetbegovic can stay in power is to bend with the wind. If he stood up for something he'd be shot down,'' says one diplomat close to the negotiations.

But Saadia Touval, an expert in ethnic conflict mediation with the US Institute of Peace, says Izetbegovic may still be trying to pressure his constituents at home to approve the existing plan. He says the Geneva talks are closer to a solution now than at any time in the past, despite last week's collapse.

``This is not something the Muslims are happy to accept, but I think it is perhaps the best they can get,'' Mr. Touval says.

THE Clinton administration, which favors lifting the UN arms embargo for Bosnia's Muslims and insists the threat of airstrikes is still viable, is under strong pressure to do more.

Three career foreign service officers resigned this summer in protest over US Bosnian policy. An open letter signed by 100 former officials and scholars urges US-led air attacks on Serb targets and arms aid for the Muslims. President Clinton says the US is constrained by the need for allied support.

Some analysts say the US and the UN should develop a more uniform policy on the Bosnian war and talks. ``If there were no room for the Serbs and Croats to maneuver between the UN and the US, that might help,'' Dr. Lampe says.

But as one Asian diplomat says, ``At the end of the day it's the parties themselves who are going to have to decide the extent to which they are satisfied with any particular proposal put in front of them.''

Many diplomats and analysts say that even if a peace plan is eventually signed, implementation will be difficult. Mr. Stoltenberg estimates that 40,000 troops would be needed to monitor the boundaries of the three ministates in the current plan. Recruiting that many troops would be a major challenge.

The Bosnian Muslims want guarantees that the other two factions would not annex the new ministates to Serbia and Croatia. ``The plan could easily unravel,'' Mr. Touval says. ``The plan as it is and the map as it is are just too complex.''

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