Serbs Seek Repeat of Carter Trip

The foreign minister of Bosnian Serbs states in interview that former US president could help the Serbs renegotiate the West's peace plan

BOSNIAN Serbs want former President Jimmy Carter back. After winning major concessions from the international community in the wake of Mr. Carter's December visit, they are hungry for more sacrifices from a Bosnia-weary West.

The cease-fire froze the Bosnian Serbs' control of 70 percent of Bosnia in place, without forcing them to agree to accept the terms of the peace agreement the international community has been trying to get them to accept since last July.

In a Monitor interview Thursday, Bosnian Serb ''foreign minister'' Aleksa Buha harshly criticized the contact group, called for Carter to carry out further peace negotiations, and appeared to harden the Bosnian Serbs' position on a long-term settlement of Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II.

''According to our experience, Mr. Carter is doing a better job . Personally, I'd like to see him here,'' Mr. Buha said. ''I don't know why they [the contact group] have been getting paid for the last six months. If they continue like this, the West will be in big trouble.''

On the streets of Pale -- the Bosnian Serbs's self-declared capital -- Carter's visit and the cease-fire agreement appeared to have raised Serb expectations that more concessions are coming from the West.

''It looks like there is light at the end of the tunnel,'' says Gordana, a Serb refugee who chose not to give her last name. She says she fled Sarajevo because she did not trust the Muslim-led government.

''They [the contact group] have to realize that the Serb side also exists, and we have to have the same rights like the other side,'' she adds.

Dragan, a soldier on leave from the front, says Carter's trip showed that the way the Bosnian Serbs are being viewed by the West has changed. ''It's like now we are equal'' with the Muslims, he says. ''The US realizes that there are two sides, and we are not just rebels.''

Carter vs. contact group

Buha joked that continuing to pay the contact group negotiators bordered on ''socialism.'' He said he hoped that the group -- made up of representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia -- would be replaced by someone like Carter.

''We hope that Mr. Carter will be the next crucial figure,'' he said, ''so we can say that the contact group is really only a side road.''

Apparently confirming critics' fears that making concessions to Bosnian Serbs would only lead to a hardening of their position, Buha gave no hint of compromise. The Serb conditions for a permanent peace settlement include recognition of their self-declared ''Republika Srbska'' and a redrawing of the contact group map that would divide Bosnia in half between the two warring sides -- all conditions the Muslim-led Bosnian government and contact group have rejected.

''They should say that the Republika Srbska is a state the same as the Bosnian-Croat Federation,'' he said. ''Otherwise, we can't go even a little forward. It's out of our hands.''

Citing a clause in the cease-fire agreement brokered by Carter stating that both sides would be treated ''equally,'' Buha added, ''Carter said this when he was here, and in my point of view this was the major point of his mission.''

Again echoing language from the Carter agreement, Buha said the contact group map -- which was presented as a ''take it or leave it'' offer to the Serbs this summer -- is only a ''starting point'' for negotiations.

The detailed map would give the Muslim-led Bosnian government 51 percent of the country and the Serbs -- who now control 70 percent of Bosnia -- 49 percent.

''It's a question of quality not quantity,'' Buha said, repeating a familiar Bosnian Serb complaint. ''According to the proposal of the contact group, the Serb side would have just 20 percent of infrastructure, mines, cities, industry, and hydroelectric plants.''

Buha scoffed at a bill introduced in the US Senate by majority leader Bob Dole last week that would lift the international arms embargo on the Muslim-led Bosnian government if no peace deal is reached before the new cessation of hostilities agreement runs out on May 1. He said lifting of the embargo would only lead to a ''bloodier'' war that the Muslims could ''never'' win.

''I think [the four-month cease-fire] is the beginning of the end of the war,'' he said, ''but it is really up to America.''

Buha predicted that despite Senator Dole's threat, the West will continue backing away from the Bosnian government. ''We can see that the international community is supporting the Muslims less and less,'' he said. ''They are making progress on this point, but they seem to be slow learners.''

West continues to meet

Contact group representatives met on Thursday in Bonn and will meet tomorrow in Paris to decide what steps to take next. The group has refused to meet with the Bosnian Serbs since they rejected the peace plan this summer.

Western diplomats say unless the West is willing to push the Serbs off the territory they now hold, the contact group must compromise. They said some kind of middle ground was possible, but changing the contact group map would be difficult to accept for the West -- which has vowed not to reward Serb aggression in the war.

''I don't think confederation would be a problem,'' a Western diplomat said, ''but changing the map would be.''

Ranka Berjan, a civil engineer who says two of her cousins have died in the war, says the international community is backing away from its support of the Muslim-led Bosnian government and will give the Serbs what they want.

''Now America is tired of the Muslims' requests, the last straw [would be] that America send their soldiers, and I don't think Americans want to do that.''

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