Bosnian Leader Yields, Accepts 3-Way Partition
International mediators announced a breakthrough Friday in talks aimed at ending Bosnia-Herzegovina’s war after President Alija Izetbegovic succumbed to intense pressure and agreed to a three-way partitioning of the embattled republic.
At the same time, the military commanders of the three warring parties ordered a cease-fire to end the 16 months of bloodshed that has claimed as many as 200,000 lives and driven more than 2 million people from their homes.
Izetbegovic tried to play down the significance of the agreement announced by peace envoys Lord Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg. He emphasized that the proposed principles for a three-state federation were “preliminary.”
His foreign minister, Haris Silajdzic, told reporters, “Nothing has been signed.”
Despite the Muslim president’s reservations, the proclaimed agreement suggested Izetbegovic has given up on his determined but apparently doomed efforts to preserve Bosnia as a unified, multiethnic state.
The agreement on constitutional principles for a future alliance of Bosnian Serb, Croat and Muslim ministates was characterized by the mediators as a major step forward. But the combatants still face the bigger hurdle of drawing provincial boundaries through the ethnically variegated republic.
Izetbegovic tried to depict the plan as a compromise, noting that the negotiating parties had agreed to preserve the alliance of three ethnic provinces as a single state but have yet to tackle the daunting task of setting borders.
“There now remains the most difficult part of the job--the maps,” he said after the stormy session. The meeting was also attended by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his Croat counterpart, Mate Boban, and their patrons, the Serbian and Croatian presidents.
“We do not regard ourselves as being authorized to sign anything, and what we might initial here would have only conditional significance. We shall put it before the Parliament and ask it to ratify or not,” Izetbegovic said after approving the document along with rival Fikret Abdic, a Muslim member of the presidency from the isolated northwest Muslim region around Bihac.
A skeleton war assembly earlier this year met in Sarajevo to consider the now-defunct Vance-Owen peace plan, which would have divided Bosnia into 10, rather than three, provinces defined by ethnicity. It remains in question, however, whether the Bosnian Parliament that was elected nearly three years ago--and has since been decimated by the pullout of most Serbian and many Croatian lawmakers--has the authority to decide vital matters for the whole of the republic.
Izetbegovic’s reaction to Friday’s agreement was in stark contrast to that of his Serbian and Croatian adversaries. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his Croatian opposite number, Franjo Tudjman, welcomed the deal. “It completely affirms Srpska Republika,” a buoyant Milosevic told Belgrade Television, referring to the self-styled Bosnian Serb state. Serb forces currently control more than 70% of Bosnian territory.
Milosevic and Tudjman are in Geneva to provide their “support” for a solution to the conflict, while on the ground in Bosnia their proxy armies are vying for more Bosnian territory.
Bosnian radio reported that at least seven people were killed Friday in Sarajevo, which has been besieged by Serbian forces from the surrounding hills since April, 1992. And a Spanish soldier was killed in his sleep when he and the rest of his company were shelled in their barracks southwest of the city, U.N. officials said. Seventeen other soldiers were wounded, three critically.
The incident, the second attack on foreign peacekeeping forces in Bosnia in less than a week, seemed certain to stoke demands for the use of NATO air power to avenge assaults on U.N. troops there.
Gunners also blasted the area around Zuc, a strategic hill overlooking the city, where fierce battles have raged for days between encircling Serbian forces and Muslim-led government troops.
The Serbian and Croatian leaders have reason to hurry home. Milosevic, in particular, needs to secure a settlement in Bosnia in hopes that it will lead to the lifting, or at least the easing, of U.N. sanctions imposed on Serbia for its role in fueling the conflict.
The new “Constitutional Agreement for the Union of Republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” as it was called by Geneva spokesman John Mills, resembles the Serbian and Croatian plan to form their own ethnic ministates.
Mills said the parties would meet over the weekend to hammer out the details of the plan. Izetbegovic approved the “bare bones of a constitution which provides the minimum for the functioning of a state,” said a diplomat.
Asked if the agreement meant ethnic division, a Serbian member of the multiethnic Bosnian presidency, Mirko Pejanovic, said: “It is a heavy price. But it is one we have to pay if there will be peace.”
The proposal gives a weak central government control over foreign affairs and international trade. Bosnian constitutional expert Kasim Trnka dismissed the Owen-Stoltenberg plan. “It is not even a confederation, it is a carve-up,” he said.
The plan leaves open the crucial questions of economic framework and national currencies. Karadzic and Boban have called for their own central banks with separate currencies for each ethnic state.
In an attempt to broker a settlement, the international community had stepped up pressure on the Bosnian leadership, the weakest of the three parties and the least likely to achieve any significant gains through military means.
Diplomats said President Clinton’s special envoy, Reginald Bartholomew, was dispatched to try to persuade Izetbegovic “to show flexibility,” while his Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, was working on the Serbs.
Owen arranged for Western financial experts to meet Bosnian leaders to discuss setting up a national currency.
Islamic countries and the United States were telling Izetbegovic they would be prepared to give aid to what remained of the Bosnian Muslim state, diplomats said. The message to Izetbegovic was simple. “His country would receive money, as opposed to his Serb and Croat neighbors,” said one.
The diplomats deny that the peace envoys are backing a Serbo-Croat confederation, which Izetbegovic says will soon lead to the annexation of most of Bosnia to Serbia and Croatia.
Bosnia’s Tentative Accord
Here are the main points of Friday’s preliminary constitutional agreement on Bosnia-Herzegovina:
* A new Union of Republics of Bosnia and Herzegovina will consist of three states and recognize three main peoples: Muslims, Serbs, Croats.
* The union inherits Bosnia’s U.N. membership. There are provisions for citizenship of the new union and individual republics, whose names are to be decided.
* No central parliament is elected. Each republic’s parliament sends lawmakers to a union assembly, which must agree on a central budget.
* The central government handles foreign relations and trade. Its governing body, comprising the heads of the three republics, decides by consensus and appoints a prime minister. Leadership of the presidency and the prime minister’s post rotate among the three republics.
* Ethnically mixed courts, including one to resolve constitutional disputes, will be set up.
* Gradual demilitarization of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
POWERS OF THE REPUBLICS
* Each republic can join international organizations and make treaties if this “would not be inconsistent with the interests” of the union. Secession from the union needs approval of the other republics. Disputes over any secession would be arbitrated by the U.N. Security Council.
* Control over police forces and whether the republics can keep their own currencies were left for further negotiations.
‘ETHNIC CLEANSING’ AND HUMAN RIGHTS
* All citizens have the right to regain property lost in “ethnic cleansing” or to compensation. They also have the right to settle anywhere on union territory. Human rights guarantees are mentioned in principle, but details are to be agreed later.