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Bosnia Cease-Fire May Bring Muslim Defeat

By David RohdeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 3, 1995


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.

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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.''

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.