Pinning Hopes On The Imposition of A Partition of Bosnia

THE Bosnian war has not ended. The focus has simply returned to the diplomatic map table.

On the face of it, the Serbs might have seemed to bow to NATO's ultimatum on withdrawal from Gorazde. But the grudging, defiant way they did it - in which they first destroyed surrounding areas - left no doubt of their likely attitude in this new, broader international bid for a peace formula.

It is going to be as elusive and difficult as at any time since the first international mediators produced their ill-fated cantonization plan last year.

Subsequent initiatives by the United Nations and the European Union, and then by the United States and Russia, all foundered on the many differences between those concerned, both at the international level and in terms of individual national interests that have historically stirred the Balkan region's ethnic tendencies to create its own cockpit of conflict.

It is hard to see that this pooling of previous initiatives from the US, Russia, West Europeans, and the UN can succeed where all else has failed so far.

The idea is apparently to boil it all down to a simple partitioning of Bosnia - a pluralist Muslim-Croat half, and the other to be absorbed into Serbia proper.

Thus, again, the map is the issue; and there would seem scant hope that when the proposed four-month cease-fire passes, the shooting will not be resumed. Unless, that is, the Serbs now are being brought by international opinion closer to the realization that they may have won the war militarily but are not going to be allowed to win peace on their own aggressor terms.

Sarajevo's own moderate Serbs recently joined with Muslim co-residents in calling for a united Bosnia. But in Belgrade, opinion polls suggest there is still no significant drop in support for the Milosevic leadership.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic seems to be thriving on a specious claim that Serbia - as Hitler said of his Reich - is ``encircled'' and that Europe and the UN have ``taken sides'' against it.

The ``half and half'' formula would give Serbia 50 percent of Bosnia, compared with the 70 percent it now holds. Neither Belgrade nor the Bosnian Serb warlords have shown any readiness to settle for less.

Of those involved in this new diplomatic search for a settlement, Russia probably holds the most potent key.

Intransigence has already cost the Serbs a lot of Russian sympathy. The world's shock over Gorazde compelled an even harsher reminder that common Slavdom might mean much historically, but that the new Russia's big-power image internationally weighed more than mythical Serb ambitions for a ``Greater Serbia.''

Can this new initiative work now? New Western toughness can still invite the danger that Serbia - unless, or even if, compelled by Russia to make concessions - will simply switch its efforts elsewhere in order to bolster its faltering rump federation.

It may see these options: sterner repression of its Albanians in Kosovo and Sandzak, where ethnic cleansing has grown apace recently, or putting pressure on an economically weakening Macedonia to force it to take refuge in the Yugoslav federation.

If Belgrade were to adopt either of these options, then one might reasonably expect appropriate Western reactions. It is conceivable that Russia might ask Belgrade to forego its alternatives and make concessions in Bosnia. The reward would be an easing of sanctions that Russia has never been happy about, and which Mr. Milosevic must now know can break him.

But without such strict conditions - including the reversal of ethnic cleansing and the return of the countless refugees from Serb-ravaged Bosnia - this new international effort for peace cannot succeed.

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