Bosnia Cease-Fire May Bring Muslim Defeat

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

BOSNIA'S warring factions took a large step toward an uneven peace with a pact to cease hostilities for the first four months of 1995.

The cease-fire, agreed to over New Year's weekend, required many concessions by the Muslim-led government and few by Bosnian Serbs. Observers say it reaffirms that the international community has given up on a Serb compromise and instead is pressuring the Bosnian government to all but capitulate.

``The UN is negotiating the best terms of surrender it can for the Bosnians,'' says a senior Western diplomat here. ``None of the concerns of the Bosnian government - the `contact-group' plan, Bihac, the demilitarization of Sarajevo ... were addressed.''

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Whether the agreement represents the end of the war or just a chance for the warring factions to rest up through the harsh winter for a round of spring fighting is unclear.

But the difficulty UN mediators had in negotiating the agreement - that simply failed to mention topics the two sides cannot not agree on - indicates the hardest part is yet to come.

Breaches of the new agreement are already taking place. Yesterday a missile hit the Holiday Inn in Sarajevo. And fighting in the Bihac region in northwest Bosnia continues. UN military spokesman Col. Gary Coward reported four cease-fire violations, described as ``mixed artillery and small arms fire, fired by both sides.''

UN officials involved in the negotiations said that during the final day of talks the bitter enemies nearly allowed relatively minor issues surrounding ``saving face'' to derail the agreement. ``All of the major issues [for a cease-fire] were settled,'' a UN official says. The agreement has ``nothing to do with substance.''

The official says that, calculated or not, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic played the role of a Serbian ``good cop'' - the flexible negotiator - in the negotiations and Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic played the ``bad cop'' - seemingly obstinate and intractable.

Bosnian government officials remained skeptical about Serb intentions and said more pressure must be brought on them. In an interview, Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic called on the United States Congress to set a firm deadline for lifting the arms embargo if nothing comes out of the negotiations ahead.

``I do not hope - I know [Congress] will do it,'' Mr. Silajdzic said. ``There should be enough time ... two months, three months, four months, but not more, to offer the Serbs a deadline and tell them listen, ... accept this plan or we shall have ... not only to lift the arms embargo, but to arm Bosnia.''

Last-minute hitch

Up until the Saturday night signing, Bosnian government officials criticized the agreement as hollow and threatened to not sign it. The agreement fails to mention the ``contact group'' peace plan that the international community had presented to the Bosnian Serbs as a final, take-it-or-leave it peace plan last summer.

The contact group plan, which the Muslim-led Bosnian government has accepted and the Bosnian Serbs rejected, would force the Bosnian Serbs to give up much of the 70 percent of Bosnia they now hold and settle for 49 percent.

The Bosnian government was clearly unhappy with the cessation of hostilities agreement, but observers here said they had to accept it. Beginning with Karadzic's dramatic invitation to former US president Jimmy Carter, the Bosnian Serbs had steadily positioned themselves as the party that appeared to be offering peace to an international community eager for a settlement.

``The [Bosnians] were backed into a corner. The Serbs had said yes. If they said no, they would have been finished,'' the official said. ``[The UN] was going to create a public-relations nightmare for them.''

Under the agreement, a zone of separation - filled in some areas with UN troops - will be established between the two sides and all heavy weapons over 12.7 millimeters in size are to be placed under UN supervision. This will require an additional number of troops, UN officials say. And it is unclear whether donor nations will be willing to send additional ground forces to Bosnia, where the UN says it is already operating with 5,000 less troops than they need.

All ``foreign troops'' are to be withdrawn from Bosnia, a reference to Serb forces from neighboring Croatia that are continuing to attack the Muslim enclave of Bihac.

Plan opens roads for aid convoys

The agreement does include a promise of unhindered UN aid convoys access to surrounded Muslim enclaves and open-road access to Sarajevo - a plus for the Bosnian government - but it will essentially freeze Serb territorial gains.

UN officials say attempts to implement the agreement over the next two to four weeks through ``joint commissions'' mediated by the UN will show how serious both sides are about peace. How far the heavy weapons will be withdrawn, how large the zone of separation will be, where UN troops will be inserted between the forces, and how Serbs from Croatia - who did not sign the agreement - will be coaxed to withdraw has yet to be determined.

Separate negotiations on a long-term peace settlement are to be held by representatives of the contact group - the US, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia, who are expected to visit the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale soon. But Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic warned an unfair permanent settlement would not be accepted.

``Peace at any price cannot and will not be accepted,'' he said in his New Year's Day message on Bosnian state radio. ``We will negotiate where we can and make war where we have to. If the enemy does not show readiness for reasonable political solutions within the next four months, the cease-fire will not be extended.''

The Western diplomat predicted that a weary international community may pull the UN out of Bosnia if a peace settlement in the bitter war is again not reached.

``I think it's going to go one of two ways,'' the Western diplomat says. ``This is either the beginning of a peace settlement, or all hell is going to break lose this spring.''

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