Bosnian State Unravels as It's Stitched

IT used to be that first the fighting stopped and then peace was negotiated. But in Bosnia and, to some extent, in the Middle East, violence goes on even while the structure of peace is cobbled together.

Remember when the normal order of events was cease-fire followed by formal truce, then a peace treaty? That went for cross-border conflicts like the two world wars and Korea - where, after more than 30 years, there is a truce, but still no peace treaty.

In contemporary civil, communal, and ethnic conflicts the order may be different. In Vietnam, the fighting went on till the very end. In South Africa, the African National Congress refused to lay down its arms officially until it was sure of the transition of power. In the Middle East today, Israel and the PLO push ahead with a transfer of power knowing that it is constantly threatened by extremists on both sides.

It is Bosnia, however, where the situation is the most bizarre. Playing along with the urgings of the American brokers, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia are writing the constitution for a cooperative Bosnian state even while they continue killing each other to make sure that state never comes to be.

The Croats ally themselves with the Muslims against the Serbs, except when the Croats are busy themselves killing Muslims. One partition map is drawn in Geneva, but another map is drawn with mortar and missile on the ground. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has never repudiated the map he drew on a menu during an official dinner in London, showing his vision of Bosnia in 10 years as divided between Croatia and Serbia, with no Muslim area at all.

Are people kidding themselves about a Bosnian state with democratic elections and a rotating presidency? President Clinton, deadpan, talks of another great step toward peace, but Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who isn't running for reelection, says if this vague outline is all we have, it will not bring peace.

That doesn't mean the exercise in constitution-writing is just a charade. It does mean that only when the parties are cajoled or coerced into a cease-fire, will the negotiations mean very much. Belatedly, Mr. Clinton has acknowledged this fact by instructing Mr. Holbrooke to try to arrange cease-fire talks, but Holbrooke indicates he remains pessimistic. There can be no confidence that partition lines will be respected and power will be shared until the fighting stops. Planning peace while waging war is not a great recipe for success.

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