THE long-stalled Geneva talks on Bosnia-Herzegovina's political future may resume as early as this weekend. The big question is whether the warring factions can achieve anything more than a brief halt in the fighting.
Thorvald Stoltenberg, mediator for the United Nations, assured the Security Council on Tuesday that all three factions now favor the talks. He says he believes that by pursuing their proposals "around the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield," the Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims can reach a durable settlement.
But the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo has had numerous conditions for resuming the negotiations. They include a lasting cease-fire and restoration of water and electric utilities in Sarajevo, which have been cut for weeks and the Bosnian Serbs agreed to restore last weekend. Some water began flowing yesterday.
Bosnia's collective presidency firmly rejects the Serb-Croat plan to divide Bosnia into three ethnic ministates. The Muslim-led government is concerned that the arrangement will lead to annexations by Serbia and Croatia and consign the Muslims to a small fraction of the land. The government favors a federal state of multi-ethnic provinces divided along economic lines.
The need for a settlement is urgent. In a July 12 report to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on the status of their peacemaking efforts, Mr. Stoltenberg and European Community mediator Lord David Owen pointed to Bosnia's worsening humanitarian and peacekeeping situation. "There is a real risk," the report concludes, "that, if the present downward spiral continues, it will be impossible for the UN to remain in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Stoltenberg denies reports that he or his office threatened a UN pullout to pressure Bosnia's Muslim-led government to resume talks. "I have an obligation to tell the truth," he told reporters. "Every day we lose, the situation on the ground deteriorates in a way that undermines our ability to reach a settlement."
Adequate security and resources are key. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who toured Sarajevo yesterday, will hold a high-level meeting in Geneva tomorrow to appeal for more money and food. The UNHCR has received only $130 million of $430 million it sought for its Yugoslav programs, and food supplies are running out.
So far, only verbal support for Bosnia's Muslims is strong. The recent Tokyo Declaration of the world's leading economic nations said any partition plan imposed on the Muslims would be unacceptable. US State Department spokesman Michael McCurry insisted this week that there must be no reward for "ethnic cleansing" and that any accord must be acceptable to all three warring factions.
In their talks with Stoltenberg, members of the Security Council also stressed that land taken by force is not legitimate. "The UN should never be a party to an agreement where peace at any price might be attempted," insisted Diego Arria, Venezuela's ambassador to the UN. He led an unsuccessful effort two weeks ago by the nonaligned members of the Council to lift the UN arms embargo for Bosnian government forces and planned to fly to Sarajevo this week for talks with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic.
The difficulty is that the fast-changing military reality in Bosnia and the reluctance of the major powers to get involved in the fighting have helped to create a gap between the principles the Council endorses and its ability to uphold them.
Yet one recent, encouraging sign that action can match rhetoric was the pledge Tuesday by seven members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to supply as many as 18,000 troops in support of UN-designated "safe havens" in Bosnia. Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, who has been trying to get at least 7,500 additional troops for that task, will decide which offers to accept.
Iran alone has volunteered 10,000 troops, but Pakistan, Tunisia, Bangladesh, and Malaysia are considered the most likely choices. An all-Muslim force could open the UN to charges of partisanship.
The Bosnian Muslims' political position is increasingly unrealistic in light of their ground losses, says Janusz Bugajski, an expert on Eastern Europe with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The question is how much of a territory the Muslims get, who is going to protect it, and how viable it will be as a quasistate."
Mr. Bugajski says the Muslims should accept the division proposed by the Serbs and Croats on condition that the UN protect at least what the Muslims now have and help to rebuild their economy. "It's a desperate choice, but it's the best they'll probably be able to get."
No one yet is committed to implementing and enforcing any settlement reached in talks, says Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, Muhamed Sacirbey. His government needs to have confidence, he says, that any accord reached will be negotiated in good faith, implemented, and observed.
Some members of the Bosnian presidency have said they would prefer a UN protectorate to the Serb-Croat partition proposal. Yet experts say Serbs and Croats would face little pressure to accept such a solution, and the UN is likely to be reluctant to commit the necessary resources.