Bosnian Peace Plan Finds No Takers
Muslims pursue fight, angered by cutback in proposed land
| ZAGREB, CROATIA
AS the United States, Europe, and Russia pat themselves on the back for finally unifying their policies toward Bosnia-Herzegovina, the warring factions seem farther than ever from talking peace.
The Bosnian Muslims seem less inclined toward peace since the US apparently changed its policy on Bosnia by endorsing a European and Russian plan. That plan, agreed to last week in Geneva, would allow Bosnian Serbs to keep more territorial gains than called for under a US-sponsored accord, signed in Washington in February, creating a Muslim-Croat federation on Bosnian soil.
Feeling abandoned by the international community and buoyed by recent territorial successes, the Bosnian government has stepped up attacks on several different fronts and refused requests for temporary or permanent cease-fires.
Over the past week, the Bosnian Army says it has captured 12 square miles of land to the north and east of the Muslim stronghold of Tuzla and a key central Bosnian supply route running through contested territory near Kladanj, about 25 miles northeast of Sarajevo.
The Muslim gains have triggered an angry response from the Bosnian Serbs, who have shelled the United Nations-protected safe area of Tuzla in the north in violation of a NATO ultimatum.
More than 40 shells have landed in the Tuzla area in the past week. On Tuesday, Serb tanks fired at the UN-controlled airfield in Tuzla, shortly after the first UN plane in two months landed. UN troops on the ground requested airstrikes when the shelling started, but UN officials in Zagreb denied the request.
Asked what the criteria for NATO action would be, Matthew Nerzig, UN spokesman in Zagreb, said: ``when we feel strongly that action on our part will improve the situation.''
Although flights were scheduled to resume Wednesday, pilots refused to make the risky trip.
The Bosnian policy adopted last week by the US, Russia, and the European Union, endorsed a plan giving 49 percent of Bosnia to the Serbs and 51 percent to the new Muslim-Croat federation.
But the plan contradicted the outcome of grueling negotiations held in Washington in February, which were hailed as a breakthrough between Croats and Muslims on details of the new Croat-Muslim federation.
Only days prior to last week's Geneva foreign-ministers meeting, Croats and Muslims had finally agreed to a map dividing the federation into eight cantons making up 58 percent of Bosnia.
Bosnian government sources say the federation's constitution, supported by Washington, stipulates the return of Bosnian towns where Muslims and Croats were in the majority before the war. But according to the Geneva declaration, some of that land will not have to be returned.
``The Americans have played a dirty trick,'' says Faris Nanic, secretary-general for Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action in Croatia. ``This plan is not feasible. It is in violation of the very principles of the Washington agreement.''
The US had previously refused to endorse the European and Russian-backed initiative, saying it unfairly pressured the Bosnian government to accept a plan they felt was unjust. Western diplomats refuted claims their policy had changed, but in the same breath admitted it was a compromise made in the name of unity.
``This is not a reversal of policy,'' one Western diplomat says. ``We have no interest in forcing the Muslims into anything. One looks for the opportunity to continue the momentum,'' the Western diplomat continues. ``We would never get anywhere if we had this tough approach all the time.''
The foreign ministers called on the warring factions to accept a four-month cease-fire last Friday, but the Serbs and Muslims rejected it.
While peace is in the interest of the Bosnian Serbs, anxious to solidify their gains on the ground, and of the international community, anxious for a settlement and to protect their peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, Bosnian Muslims, with time on their side, appear to have no interest.
For them peace does not mean a cease-fire, but the return of land taken by force and the repatriation of over 2 million refugees and displaced people driven out of their homes by a vicious Serb ethnic-cleansing campaign.
``Everyone is talking peace, and no one is talking justice,'' Mr. Nanic says.
Although the Bosnian government appeared unlikely to agree to a cease-fire or a return to the negotiating table prior to the Geneva foreign ministers meeting, they are even less likely now, Bosnian government sources say.
As the Muslim and Croat former foes cement their new federation in Bosnia, weapons will pass through friendly Croat borders to the Muslims more easily.
Bosnian sources reported last week that an Iranian plane landed in Zagreb loaded with 60 tons of ammunition that was then transferred to Bosnian Muslims - after Croats took a one-third share.
Western diplomats balked at the suggestion that the Muslims would not return to the negotiating table and attributed their refusals to characteristic posturing.
``You know they are going to come back. I won't say it's exactly posturing, but the Muslims have a certain style, and I can tell you ... they are engaged in talks,'' the diplomat says.
And France will withdraw its UN peacekeeping troops from Bosnia if there is no progress toward peace by the next meeting of foreign ministers in Geneva, scheduled for June 13, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said yesterday. France has 6,000 troops in Bosnia.