Dreams of a Unified Bosnia Fade as Ethnic Lines Harden

The gang of Bosnian Muslim teenagers waited patiently for the busload of Serbs. They had clubs ready and stones in hand to block any Serbs who might dare to cross this ethnic boundary to visit family graves.

Elderly women waited, too, "armed" with sticks and joking as they sat beside the road. Previous visits - arranged by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate ethnic integration - had been thwarted and buses smashed.

This day the Serbs do not come. But the incident highlights a critical problem: For many here, the divide between Muslim, Serb, and Croat is as wide as ever, despite the peace accord signed in Dayton, Ohio, last November.

As bands of Bosnians from all ethnic groups lie in wait at similar ethnic junctions across the country, the ideal of harmony and ethnic integration envisioned in the Dayton accord erodes daily. The agreement guarantees freedom of movement and the safe return of some 2 million refugees to their homes.

But Bosnians brave enough to test those provisions are being blocked and find that the forces of division are now stronger than the forces of unity. Regardless of the peace, Bosnian remains partitioned along ethnic lines.

"I've not seen my father for four years, and the Serbs could at least tell me if he is alive or dead," says teenager Edin Music at the makeshift Hadzici checkpoint on the western outskirts of Sarajevo.

"They destroyed the city and everything, and now they want to come again. We are not going to make any provocation. We are just not going to let them go," he says.

The anger of this Muslim crowd is telling, since their government in Sarajevo is the strongest supporter of the Dayton accord. Bosnian Serbs, whose forces conducted brutal campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" against Muslims and Croats during the four-year war, oppose the accord far more.

"I'm from a village where [the Serbs] destroyed everything, where they killed many civilians," say young Muslim Mirsad Dupovac. The crowd of other teenagers nod their support.

"The people who did the crimes left, and now they want to come back. It is not allowed," he says.

'You can't force consent'

The Dayton agreement assumes that peace will bring reconciliation. But recent clashes between ethnic groups - some of them lethal - have shown instead that few are willing to forgive.

"If an old lady can't go back to put flowers on a grave, it does not bode well to get people to go back and live there," says Kris Janowski, the spokesman for the UNHCR. So far, only 60,000 refugees have returned to their homes as few have risked moving back to areas now controlled by another ethnic group.

Separatist Bosnian Serbs, who waged the war to rule out living with Muslims, are still openly hostile to the peace plan. Not one Muslim has yet returned to live in Serb territory, Mr. Janowski says.

"You can't force Serbs to take Muslims and Croats back - there must be a consent, which by and large is nonexistent," he says. "All can be solved by time. But how much? 100 years? Maybe. Two or three years? No."

Last week hard-line Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic - twice indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague - sacked Prime Minister Kajko Kasagic, who had been touted by Western officials as a "reasonable alternative" to the extremist Karadzic.

Many Western officials and observers say the peace accord can't be carried out unless Mr. Karadzic is no longer in power.

Carl Bildt, the chief civilian administrator of the peace accord who had spearheaded the effort, calls Karadzic's ouster of Mr. Kasagic a "coup against Dayton."

Over the weekend, Mr. Bildt shuttled between Pale in Serb-held Bosnia, and Belgrade, Serbia, where he talked with President Slobodan Milosevic, presumably to urge him to aid in the effort to oust Karadzic. The Associated Press reported Sunday that Karadzic may have resigned. Bildt's office said it was seeking written confirmation.

For the Bosnian Serbs, Dayton is a "partition agreement, so they are shocked that the West is trying to impose ethnic reintegration upon them," says one senior UN official. "The problem is that the place is still run by the old 'cleansing club,' and with their every gesture they say: 'We don't want a single Muslim here.' "

Serb authorities demand that any crossing of Muslims or Croats into their territory, even if to visit a cemetery, be approved in advance. Often the visits are halted anyway, just as the Muslims in Hadzici tried to stop Serb visits.

Despite the agreed aims of Dayton, Western officials increasingly say that Bosnia will remain divided. "Unification is not in the cards," says the senior UN official. "Division is much more likely - everything points to that." Lack of freedom of movement, he adds, will jeopardize the Bosnian elections, due by September.

A Serb close to the hard-line Karadzic leadership confirmed this result. "Muslims who say they want life as it was before the war are lying," he says. "Partition is what we all would like. We don't want to live with them."

How to 'do the right thing'

Such an end game will not immediately lead Bosnian factions back to war when American-led NATO peace forces withdraw at the end of the year, analysts say. But renewed ethnic conflict would not be far off, they warn.

"On the ground, the healing forces are not self-sustaining," says Michael Steiner, the deputy to Bildt. "We must always convince the parties to do the right thing. People here will never accept to live in someone else's house and see their home on the other side of the front line... People must at least have a process, a light at the end of the tunnel."

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