Bosnian Cease-Fire Holds As Mediators Plan Talks
SEEKING A LASTING PEACE
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — WITH the latest cease-fire appearing to take hold in Bosnia-Herzegovina, international mediators are working to finalize a plan for a political settlement to the war.
``The imperatives are pointing toward peace,'' Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, the United Nations commander in Bosnia, asserted after Thursday's signing in Geneva of the 35th cease-fire in 26 months.
The so-called contact group of United States, French, British, German, and Russian negotiators will continue meeting this week to iron out its plan to end the worst carnage Europe has witnessed since World War II.
But a main concern shared by some international military and political observers in Bosnia is that the Muslim-led Bosnian presidency, emboldened by its renewed alliance with the Croats, still dreams of forcibly regaining land seized by the Serbs.
``It is definitely just another piece of paper,'' says an official of the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army. ``It will just give people time to get ready for the next round of war.''
Adds Samira Likic, a Sarajevo shopkeeper: ``I don't really expect a cease-fire like this to come into effect.... It's not that easy to get peace.''
Sarajevo was not affected by the new truce. A separate cease-fire imposed by the UN and NATO has been in effect there since February, with UN Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) manning key trouble-spots.
But no such arrangements buttress the new, country-wide truce between the Bosnian side - including Muslims and Croats - and the breakaway Bosnian Serbs.
Shortly after the truce went into effect, continued hostilities in some parts of Bosnia, where fighting between mainly Muslim government troops and the Bosnian Serbs has intensified in recent weeks, were reported.
Nobody expected otherwise. The UN does not have military observers in some of the mountainous combat areas, and the policed cease-fire around Sarajevo is breached by scores of violations daily - though it has allowed many aspects of normal life to be revived.
But UNPROFOR hopes to deploy military observers along as much as possible of the 750 miles of confrontation line, and to attach liaison officers to the warring factions at all levels. This would enable it to contact both sides swiftly when firing breaks out, and press them to halt hostilities.
But the key question is whether the month of relative calm that may ensue will produce the desired comprehensive cease-fire and progress toward a final political settlement.
The two issues are strongly linked, because of the Bosnian government's resistance to a de facto peace on the ground, which would leave the Serbs in control of 70 percent of Bosnia and under reduced pressure to relinquish any of their conquests.
In renewed cease-fire talks, the Bosnian government will be pressing for as short a commitment as possible. Any such comprehensive cease-fire would be consolidated by the insertion of UN buffer troops between the combatants, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, and other UN-policed measures that would make it hard for the belligerents to go back to war.
``Why do we need four months?'' asks Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. ``If there is a genuine will on both sides, we can negotiate a political settlement in two weeks. But the Serbs just want to play for time, so they can dig in on our usurped land and sit there indefinitely.''
THE international group is proposing a territorial partition that would give the Croat-Muslim federation 51 percent of the land and the Serbs 49 percent. Both sides want more.
``The Serbs simply cannot be allowed to retain areas of majority Muslim and Croat population under the 1991 census, and that means we must be given at least 58 percent,'' Mr. Silajdzic told the Monitor.
If the parties cannot agree among themselves, the international mediators plan to produce their own set of proposals and try to induce the protagonists to accept them.
If the Serbs accept and the Muslim-Croat side rejects, there are strong hints that sanctions might be lifted against Serbia - a strong source of pressure on the Bosnian government.
Another, even stronger, source of leverage is the thinly veiled threat issued periodically by Britain, France, and others that they might pull their troops out of UNPROFOR unless a settlement is reached soon - a step that would also mean curtailing the massive UN relief operation.
If the Serbs failed to sign up, the international community could react by lifting the arms embargo that has hamstrung the Bosnian Muslims for the past two years - though several troop-contributing nations, fearing a bloodbath, say they would have to pull out of UNPROFOR if that happened.