Bosnian Serbs Seen Buying Time for Greater Serbia Aims


THE Bosnian Serb leadership's decision to accept the principles of a new peace plan is seen by political analysts here as a cynical public relations gambit that belies its intention to continue carving up war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Says Stojan Cerovic, a political columnist for Belgrade-based Vreme magazine: "They are not sincere. It is evident they are not ready to accept the central idea of the Vance-Owen program, which is a single Bosnian state."

"This event does not really move us any closer to peace," observes a Western diplomat here in Belgrade. "The Serbs do not intend to give up territory. They do not intend to demilitarize, and they do not intend to give up sovereignty."

Statements by Radovan Karadzic and other Bosnian Serb leaders immediately after the `parliament' vote on Wednesday seemed to confirm this view.

"The Serbian state exists," Mr. Karadzic told reporters following the vote in his mountain stronghold town of Pale. "It will function as long as the Serbian people want it to function." Karadzic also indicated, the Associated Press said yesterday, that the peace plan would have to be confirmed by Serbs in a referendum.

It remains to be seen how UN Special Envoy Cyrus Vance and European Community mediator Lord David Owen will react when the Geneva peace conference they co-chair resumes on Saturday. The Jan. 20 vote by the self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament endorsed one element of the three-part Vance-Owen peace plan, a set of constitutional principles mandating the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina's integrity and independence.

The former Yugoslav republic would be divided into 10 autonomous provinces linked by a weak central government. The 1.9 million Muslim Slavs, 1.4 million Christian Orthodox Serbs, and 750,000 Roman Catholic Croats would each dominate in three provinces, while the 10th, around Sarajevo, would be neutral.

By accepting those principles, the Bosnian Serbs in theory must abandon their goal of tearing a self-declared state out of Bosnia-Herzegovina and merging it with Serb-held areas of Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro in a "Greater Serbia."

Mr. Vance and Lord Owen have repeatedly told Karadzic that there can be no Serbian "state within a state" and that the proposed provinces would be barred from forging any ties with foreign countries.

But Karadzic also reiterated a call for major changes in the Vance-Owen map of the proposed provincial boundaries, demanding contiguity between the three that would be Serb-dominated. Without contiguity, Karadzic would lose a strategic land corridor running from western Serbia across Serb-held northern Bosnia-Herzegovina to areas of Croatia conquered by Yugoslav Army-backed Serbian forces during the 1991 Serb-Croat war.

The corridor is said to be the key to "Greater Serbia." Vance and Owen have made it clear they understand that and will not give in to Karadzic's demand.

Karadzic and the parliament also chose a new "government" headed by self-styled prime minister Radomir Lukic, who sounds just as firm about the Bosnian Serbs' intentions.

"There is nothing more important than finishing the project of Serbian statehood. That state would be integrated with other Serbian states as much as possible," he said in a recent speech.

Mr. Lukic said his first task would be "a monetary and economic union" with Serb-held areas of Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro in violation of the Vance-Owen plan's principle barring such accords.

"They've blown their cover," says another Western European diplomat. "They have owned up to the fact that they have not done anything at all. The agenda is unchanged."

Diplomats and other political analysts say Karadzic staged the meeting merely to win the resumption of the Geneva conference, which organizers suspended on Jan. 12, blaming the Bosnian Serb leader's initial refusal to accept the peace plan.

The suspension fueled the prospects of international military intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the form of the enforcement of a UN-decreed no-fly zone over the republic.

In addition, it left Karadzic's political overlord, communist President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, facing Western threats to further isolate his republic by tightening UN economic sanctions imposed in May.

"Now Karadzic can go back to Geneva and tell Vance and Owen that he did his best and that is all he can do," says Mr. Cerovic, the Vreme columnist.

Western diplomats say they doubt the mediators would be convinced of the sincerity of Karadzic and his parliament. Cerovic warns that the Bosnian Serbs had "better realize that the pressure is not going to come off and they will have to do something serious."

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