THE Muslim-led government in Bosnia appears to be pushing its role as victim of the 3-1/2 year war to pressure international donors to speed up development aid and force the West to deal with war crimes against its people.
But NATO-led International Force (IFOR) and United Nations officials say that the Bosnian government's latest moves are cynical and take advantage of international good will.
"We are paying for peace, but how long we will pay, and how much, we will see," says one IFOR officer. "They are keeping the pressure on, and in making trouble they put us in a very uncomfortable position."
As the head of one large relief agency says, "It's a high-risk game, but it worked in the past, so why stop? It's not cynical - it's just getting most for their people."
Three recent incidents have underscored the new strategy.
President Alija Izetbegovic's government detained eight Bosnian Serbs on suspicion of being involved in war crimes.
The arrests sparked a strong reaction from Bosnian Serb Army commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who ordered all ties cut between Bosnian Serbs and IFOR.
Richard Holbrooke, the US assistant secretary of state who engineered the Dayton accord, jetted into Sarajevo yesterday to defuse the crisis.
"We consider this the first serious challenge to the Dayton agreement, but all three parties are still saying they will comply, but they argue what compliance means, and we are here to straighten it out," Mr. Holbrooke said.
In a move that partially eased tensions, the Bosnian government released four of the detainees late Saturday night, though it continues to hold Gen. Djordja Djukic, who is a close aide of General Mladic, and Col. Aleksa Krmanovic.
IFOR spokesman Brig. Andrew Cumming says that the arrests are "provocative and inflammatory."
But the UN War Crimes Tribunal has requested that the Bosnian government hold the two senior Serb officers for investigation and possible charges for war crimes.
As a result, an IFOR officer says, the peacekeepers were placed in a conundrum. "People are finding it very difficult to live together again," says Brigadier Cumming. "A small thing like this could have a reaction out of all proportion."
Another event that has worried Western officials is the government's failure to honor a deadline laid down by Dayton to release all prisoners by Jan. 19. Demanding information about 24,000 Muslims who are still missing, the government released most of the prisoners more than a week late - after American and European Union threats to cancel military training and hold back aid.
Western officials were also taken by surprise during Secretary of State Warren Christopher's visit to Sarajevo on Jan. 19, when President Izetbegovic and top government officials publicly decried a UN decision to allow Serb police to stay on in Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo. They contend that Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic, who declared it "intolerable," was fully aware of the decision and confirmed his support for it the night before the outburst.
Though playing well among Bosnians, such posturing is leaving many Western officials disenchanted.
"The breaking point has not been reached yet, but if nothing comes in 1996 there will be war in 1997," says a UN official who is now working with the international police force here. "People have seen the war dividend; now they must see the peace dividend."
But so far that peace dividend has barely begun to arrive in Bosnia. None of the half-billion dollars promised for Bosnia at a donor conference in December has arrived.
The World Bank is coordinating the bulk of the development aid and says that Bosnia will require $5.1 billion over the next three years for essential rebuilding. The Bank believes that $25 billion in damage was done to Bosnia during the war.
Calling the Bank assessment "skin-deep" and "unsatisfying," Amir Hadziomeragic, the assistant president of Bosnia's State Committee for Cooperation With the UN, claims that $80 billion worth of damage was inflicted upon the half of Bosnia under their control alone, and that at least $15 billion will be required over five years.
Besides IFOR, big spenders are the UN at $140 million; UNHCR at $350 million; the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is spending $80 million for elections this year; and the EU. Add 120 relief agencies that vary in size from several aid workers to $40-million operations, and the result is an unquenchable demand for office space and many opportunities for a clever government to add to the treasury.
In just one example, the cost of the conference room at the Holiday Inn that IFOR uses here for its press center is $75,000 per month, or four times what it would likely cost in New York City.