Prospect of Partition Provokes Bitterness Among Sarajevans


THE current proposal to divide Bosnia-Herzegovina into three separate entities along ethnic lines has caused dismay and a bitter sense of betrayal in Sarajevo.

It has also provoked a split in the Bosnian government leadership, although it is not clear how deep that rift runs.

President Alija Izetbegovic and his associates, deeply committed to the country's integrity and unity, want to have no part in the partition project advanced by Serbian and Croatian leaders. For them, the fact that the European Community (EC) should tacitly dump the Vance-Owen plan and even countenance the Serb-Croatian partition effort for Bosnia represents a cynical desertion. (UN reviews arms embargo, Page 2.)

Many ordinary people in government-controlled Sarajevo - not just Muslims, but Serbs, Croats, and others of mixed background who regard themselves above all as Bosnians - are appalled at the prospect of lines being drawn that would try to unscramble the multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan society to which they belong.

"Some 30 to 40 percent of us come from mixed marriages," says Vice President Ejup Ganic. "You cannot divide up our country like this. These ethnic lines would have to run through some of our bedrooms."

"It frightens me, I don't like it, and I don't want it," says a Sarajevo lawyer of Serb background. "Nobody can divide us in this way."

"They should decide for a united Bosnia, or it will be a 100 years' war - we will never give up," says Dragon Petrovic, a Serb married to a Muslim. Formerly a company manager, he is now fighting in the Bosnian government Army.

"There are about 80,000 Serbs in Sarajevo who have been defending Bosnia with us," says Vice President Ganic. "I can't tell these people to pack up and go to Pale," the capital of the "Serbian Republic" declared by Bosnian Serbs in the 70 percent of Bosnia they now control.

"Nobody elected me to move thousands of people from one area to another," he adds. "It's the end of civilization. It's fascism, a crime against humanity. I will have nothing to do with it." `Fight must continue'

"Two hundred thousand people died for Bosnia, and 100,000 were maimed," says Senada Kreso, a government information official. "We owe it to them to continue. I meet fighters and civilians every day, and I don't know a single person who would support a partition plan."

President Izetbegovic and Ganic, both Muslim members of the 10-person, multi-ethnic Presidency Council, which is the highest body on the Bosnian government side, preferred to return to Sarajevo rather than going to Geneva to hear details of the partition plan.

But seven other members of the Council - three Croats, three Serbs, and one Muslim - are participating in the Geneva meetings, mediated by international negotiators Lord David Owen (for the EC) and Thorvald Stoltenberg (for the United Nations).

Izetbegovic and his supporters deny that this represents a split in the Bosnian presidency, despite reports that he had been isolated and sidelined.

"There were differences of opinion over when to go to Geneva, but no split whatsoever," he says. "We are in touch with the other members of the presidency, and they will be coming here soon."

Izetbegovic and Ganic insist that the seven presidency members taking part in talks outside the country have no mandate to negotiate or agree to anything on Bosnia's behalf.

But some of the seven have made statements implying that they believe they do have that authority.

Some loyalist officials in Sarajevo are convinced a conspiracy is afoot, with Lord Owen as its chief mover.

They accuse him of luring the presidency members out of the country, and out of touch with their own people, the better to exert pressure on them to accept a partition deal as the only way of averting further bloodshed.

"We were all surprised that the plan devised by the international community was abandoned by it," says Bosnian Foreign Minister Haris Siljadzic, echoing widespread sentiment that Bosnia has been betrayed by international negotiations.

"We accepted the Vance-Owen plan reluctantly and under pressure in the hope that it would bring peace," he adds. "But now its author says, `Sorry, it's not realistic.' So 10 months of war and 100,000 killed add up to a big zero."

But the argument that any formula should be considered if it halts the bloodshed is one that carries weight in a country that has suffered so much in the past two years.

While most of Sarajevo's estimated 320,000 people appear dismayed at the prospect of partition, there are some who feel that a confederation might provide a breathing space for heads to cool, and that common interests would bring the country back together again sooner or later. Partition now, make peace later

"It's an awful idea, but if Bosnia became a confederation, I think the borders would soon disappear," says a physician of mixed Serb-Muslim parentage. "Maybe it's better to have partition now than to get another 200,000 people killed and then make peace later. I just want to get on with my job."

The Bosnian government's position is also undermined by recent events in the mixed Croatian-Muslim areas of central Bosnia, north and west of Sarajevo, where heavy fighting and "ethnic cleansing" have continued despite the latest cease-fire, and despite appeals from Izetbegovic and others for Croatian villagers not to flee the Muslim-led Army.

"The fighting in central Bosnia was stirred up by the Croats to justify their call for partition and to demonstrate that we cannot live together," says Foreign Minister Siljadzic.

"But unfortunately some of our people fell into the trap," he admits. "It's only human. Fifteen months of living in the stone age brings out the worst in people. Sarajevo is still cosmopolitan, but in the rural areas there is a sharp divide. I think it could be reversed, but it needs time - the wounds are very deep." Resisting partition

But Izetbegovic and his associates vow that they will continue to resist any partition and to struggle to maintain Bosnia's sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity.

They argue that the international arms embargo has condemned them to fight with one arm tied behind their back, and that the international community should either intervene forcefully enough to impose the Vance-Owen plan, or stand back and allow the flow of arms to redress the balance.

"We do not want the UN forces to withdraw," Izetbegovic says. "But if we are forced to choose between that and lifting the embargo, we would choose the latter. We would much prefer the right to self-defense to the right to receive humanitarian aid."

While dismayed by the position taken by the EC as a whole, officials here take much comfort from the United States stance in favor of lifting the arms embargo. They saw last week's visit to Sarajevo by the new US ambassador, Victor Jackovich, as a gesture of solidarity.

After presenting his credentials to Izetbegovic, Mr. Jackovich paid glowing tribute to the "spirit of Sarajevo."

"It is really resistance to aggression, and it is a determination to maintain the essence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which we respect the most: the multi-ethnic, multicultural nature of this society and this country, embracing the same values of political pluralism, a market economy, ethnic tolerance, and multi-ethnicity which we ourselves espouse," he said.

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