Serbs in Bosnia Vote on UN Plan To End Fighting
Most say they voted "no" because Serbs would be unfairly divided by the peace map
ZVORNIK, BOSNIA — ZORAN LUKIC has never read the international peace plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The first copy he saw of the proposed map dividing the former Yugoslav republic into 10 semi-autonomous provinces was the one placed before the ballot boxes in a polling station here.
Nevertheless, the 18-year-old soldier added his vote to what is expected to be an overwhelming rejection of the plan in the referendum held this weekend in the 70 percent of Bosnia conquered by Bosnian Serb forces.
The referendum has no legal basis. The exact number of registered voters is not known, nor can the veracity of the final results be guaranteed. Furthermore, the international community and Belgrade have denounced the referendum as pointless in a country eviscerated by more than a year of strife that has claimed in excess of 100,000 lives.
But the poll has assumed considerable political significance, because it will provide the Bosnian Serb leadership with a symbolic vote of confidence for its rejection of the peace plan. It also represents yet another show of disdain for the massive pressure that the international community and Belgrade have brought to bear on the Bosnian Serbs.
"Let there be military intervention. We will fight as long as we can," said Mr. Lukic, whose dull eyes reflected the strain of the frontlines on which he has served since his family was ousted from its home in the central town of Bugojno by Croats last year. "We don't like the plan because of the way they have separated Serbian territory. How can someone from outside give away something that is not theirs?"
Like Lukic, most voters interviewed outside polling stations said they had not read the complex plan written by Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen.
But they studied the map and that was all they needed: The chart illustrates how the Bosnian Serbs would have to relinquish about 30 percent of the territory seized with weaponry, funds, and political backing from the Serb-dominated rump Yugoslav union of Serbia and Montenegro.
The rest would be split into three Serb-dominated provinces, none of them linked territorially. One province would itself be divided, leaving a small Bosnian Serb island inside one of three Muslim-dominated provinces.
"The Vance-Owen plan is not satisfactory for the Serbs," said Branko Grujic, a former baker who presides over the exclusively Bosnian Serb council of the county.
"Not a single Serb province would be connected; 46 percent of the Serbian population would remain outside Serbian provinces. About 80 percent of all roads, industry, economic, and mineral resources would be in Muslim provinces, while we would remain in the field playing soccer," he said.
"I think this was done on purpose, to bunch the Serbs into little enclaves and not allow them to live in a single state."
In that, Mr. Grujic is partially correct. The peace plan was designed to block the Bosnian Serbs' goal of securing a self-declared state and joining it to a "Greater Serbia" of rump Yugoslavia and the 35 percent of adjacent Croatia overrun in 1991 by Belgrade-backed Serb rebels.
The champion of that program had been President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia. But a few weeks ago he suddenly endorsed the peace plan amid mounting threats of military intervention in Bosnia and new pressure from tighter economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations.
Mr. Milosevic orchestrated a rubber-stamp vote Friday at a gathering in Belgrade of the Yugoslav Parliament and the assemblies of Serbia and Montenegro calling on the Bosnian Serbs to sign the plan and abandon the referendum.
The vote had no effect. The Bosnian Serbs boycotted the so-called "All-Serb Assembly," along with their supporters from Croatia. Ultranationalist parties from Serbia and Montenegro walked out of the gathering.
To keep its program alive in the face of Belgrade's about-face, the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb parliament included a second question in the referendum asking voters if they wanted an independent state that could merge with neighboring states. That was as certain to be approved as the question on accepting the Vance-Owen plan was to be defeated.
That is especially true here. Zvornik is an industrial town on a bend of the beautiful Drina River on the border with Serbia. The community of 80,000 was the second town the Bosnian Serbs targeted. Serbian Tigers, a ruthless Belgrade-based paramilitary band led by Zeljko Raznatovic, a suspected war criminal, first shelled Zvornik with guns deployed on Serbia's side of the Drina. Unknown numbers of Zvornik's 50,000 Muslims - once the majority here - were killed subsequently in an assault by Mr. Raznatovic 's Yugoslav Army-controlled fighters. The rest were herded out of Zvornik in house-to-house ethnic cleansing.
Since then, about 20,000 Serbian refugees uprooted from Muslim- and Croat-dominated areas have settled in Zvornik, moving into the bullet-pocked houses that once belonged to the Muslims.
But Vance-Owen would reverse those gains, placing Zvornik in a province designated as Muslim-dominated. Most of the refugees who have settled here would have to return to areas dominated by their enemies.
"If they force us to return this house, we will. But will they give us our own house back?" asked Vela Lalavic, a Bosnian Serb who was driven with her four children and two relatives from the northern town of Kalesija, which the peace plan places in a Muslim-dominated province.
"If my home was in Serbian territory, I would not need this home," she said as her children clustered about her. "I don't like living in another person's house. But we cannot live together. I will vote against the plan."
Jovan Bosnjakovic, an economist at a local factory who was supervising a polling station, says that most Bosnian Serbs here share Ms. Lalvic's opinion.
"This town would go back to the Muslims. There are many people who would leave. But there are others who are not going to leave, and there would be a great slaughter here," he warned.