BOSNIAN President Alija Izetbegovic's tentative assent to the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina has intensified a dangerous feud within his government, with some officials warning of dissent in the Army and a possibly violent showdown.
"There would be great political conflicts, and armed conflicts would also grow as time went on," says Deputy Defense Minister Munib Bisic.
On one side of the feud are Muslim Slavs and loyal Serbs and Croats who have struggled against the ethnic carve-up of their former Yugoslav republic by superior forces of extremist Serbs and Croats backed, respectively, by Serbia and Croatia. Much of the Army and many government officials, at least in Sarajevo, are included in this camp.
On the other side, war-weary Muslims see partition as a last chance to ensure the survival of their community, which has borne the brunt of 16 months of slaughter and ethnic cleansing.
"If they sign a partition, I will be the first to resign," says Information Minister Ivo Knezevic, one of the tens of thousands of Croats who remained in Sarajevo.
"This is my country, and I can accept it only as a whole," he says. "Who is going to explain to people held in concentration camps, fighters, people who can never go back to their homes, that it was all for nothing?"
Selim Hadzibajric, the powerful mayor of Sarajevo's Muslim-dominated old town and a senior official of Mr. Izetbegovic's Party for Democratic Action, counters: "The world did nothing and allowed 200,000 people to be killed and 2 million to be driven from their homes. We have nowhere else to go. We can only die."
Mr. Bisic said some members of the military hierarchy might press for Izetbegovic's resignation should he give final approval to the partition plan.
Izetbegovic, a Muslim, was determined for most of the war to preserve the united, multiethnic Bosnia that had existed for 47 years as part of former Yugoslavia.
But with no practical international support for that agenda, the undermining of his collective presidency by Croatia-backed Bosnian Croat members and a growing Bosnian Serb military threat to Sarajevo, Izetbegovic began wavering.
"Our struggle should bear in mind the Bosnian Muslim people who are the targets of aggression, because the aim of the aggressors was ... to exterminate the Muslim people," the president said in a statement broadcast Saturday on Sarajevo radio. Geneva talks
International mediators Lord David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg presided over discussions of the plan Friday in Geneva at the latest round of peace talks between the Bosnian presidency and the leaders of the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat forces.
The proposal would dissect Bosnia into three republics. The largest would be Serbian and the second largest, Croatian.
On paper, a "Bosnian" republic would be created for members of all three communities who wish to live in the multiethnic state that the Bosnian Serb and Croat extremists seek to destroy. In practice, however, it would be an overwhelmingly Muslim republic.
The so-called "Union of Republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina" would have a central government that would oversee only foreign policy, while the republics would enjoy autonomy in everything else. Each would have a separate currency.
The plan was touted as a compromise between the demands by Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders for a confederation of ethnically pure independent states and Izetbegovic's proposal for preserving Bosnia as a unified federation.
There are still numerous details to be worked out. Most critical are the boundaries of the three republics. A disagreement on the map, which is still being discussed, will doom the entire scheme.
The success of the negotiations also hinges on the implementation of a new nationwide cease-fire declared on Saturday. That has so far failed to halt the fighting, with Muslim-dominated Bosnian Army forces pursuing an offensive to capture territory held by Bosnian Croats in central Bosnia.
In a move to keep the Bosnian Serbs from advancing further on territory already designated by the UN as Muslim "safe havens," the United States has called a NATO meeting for today to discuss the use of air strikes. The Muslim enclaves comprise most of the 10 percent of Bosnia still under government control. The Bosnian Serbs have gained control of 70 percent of the republic through military force.
But partition opponents here are alarmed because they long ago lost faith in the West, which they accuse of betraying its own moral and ethical values by supporting the latest plan and setting the stage for more "ethnic cleansing."
The partition plan, they say, is window-dressing for an inevitable division of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia.
What remains would be a fig leaf of land in which right-wing Muslims could seek to attain power by fanning ethnic and religious hatreds that would endanger the Serbs and Croats who have remained loyal to the Bosnian government. Falling back
That concern appears somewhat justified. "If Europe were to change its attitude toward the Muslims and do more to help them, then we might look back toward them," Mayor Hadzibajric says. "But at the moment, we are looking back to our roots, our faith, and our religion."
He says loyal Serbs and Croats could reside in the Muslim-dominated republic, but added that "in talking about power sharing, I would not trust them." Army's role
Col. Stjepan Siber, a loyal Croat and Deputy Bosnian Army commander, says the Army would intervene to ensure joint control.
"We cannot allow anyone's nationalism," he says.
Colonel Siber says partition would not end the war, but intensify bloodshed and chaos as opponents broke with the Sarajevo government to pursue their own political and military agendas.
Like many others, Siber also says President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and his Bosnian Serb proxies would never abide by any accord that does not allow them to attain their long-sought goal of merging Bosnian Serb-conquered territories with Serbia.
Deputy Foreign Minister Bicic agrees.
"Serbia will never give up its plans." He worries that the Bosnian Muslims would not survive in a divided Bosnia, because they would remain squeezed between enemies who would strangle them economically and politically, making a new conflict inevitable.
"This kind of peace is a great danger and would be temporary," he says. "If people are shut up on reservations and cannot live as normal, civilized people, they would prefer to die."