Bosnia’s warring factions agreed Monday to resume negotiations to end their 20-month-old bloodletting, but ominous troop movements throughout the republic and an uncompromising pose struck by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic dashed any hopes of a peace accord.
At a one-day session called by European Community foreign ministers to seek some easing of the humanitarian crisis gripping wintry Bosnia-Herzegovina, Milosevic lambasted Western countries for supporting U.N. sanctions against his country that he likened to “genocide.”
His tough talk was a rebuff of the EC’s softened approach to the Serbian leadership, which is widely accused of fomenting the Balkans crisis by arming and instigating nationalist rebels in Bosnia to seize territory for a Greater Serbia.
French and German diplomats had offered to lift sanctions in exchange for minor territorial concessions by the Bosnian Serbs. Such concessions might compel the Muslim-led Bosnian government to accept an ethnic partitioning of its ravaged country.
Rather than pressure Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to cede a small fraction of the land his gunmen have conquered, Milosevic accused the EC of impoverishing Balkan Serbs.
“You did enormous harm to our country with complete injustice,” Milosevic accused the assembled EC ministers, casting Serbia in the role of the victim of purported Western treachery.
He claimed Serbs are playing no role in the Bosnian bloodshed.
“I do not know how you envisage to stop the war between Muslims and Croats by sanctions against the Serbs, and I do not know either how you intend to explain to your children . . . with what right you made 12 million European citizens a practicing ground for the implementation of the, hopefully, last genocide in this century,” the Serbian president said.
His hard-line speech may have been tailored for those following the talks back home in Serbia, which is in the midst of another parliamentary campaign that culminates in a vote Dec. 19. Milosevic’s Serbian Socialist Party is expected to win that election.
Serbia and its last Yugoslav ally, Montenegro, have been under a U.N. embargo since May, 1992, for igniting the Balkans war. The rump Yugoslavia suffers unprecedented hyper-inflation, because Belgrade has printed mountains of currency to finance rebellions that began in August, 1991, in the Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia. While the sanctions have added to social hardships, they have also provided Milosevic with a scapegoat for Serbian suffering.
Milosevic’s defiant words reinforced the inflexible line taken by Karadzic, who said on the eve of these first peace talks in more than two months that his rebel forces, which have conquered 70% of Bosnia and expelled non-Serbian inhabitants, would never give up the seized land.
“We will not give up a centimeter of our territory,” Karadzic told Radio Belgrade before heading for the Geneva talks.
The United States would welcome any plan that was acceptable to all three warring factions, said a written statement given to reporters traveling with Secretary of State Warren Christopher at the start of a two-week trip to Europe and the Middle East. But it objects to “premature” easing of sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro.
“There can be no movement toward moderating sanctions until a Bosnia settlement has been reached and the international community sees that it is being implemented,” the statement said.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic made clear he would continue to resist an ethnic carve-up of his country--especially one that leaves the Muslim region without access to the sea or without the right of expelled citizens to return to their homes.
“We assure you we will accept any offer for establishing peace which contains minimal justice,” the Muslim president told the EC foreign ministers. “At the same time, I assure you, we shall not sign any unjust offer, regardless of the coming winter, European blackmail concerning hunger and the threats of the unified aggressor.”
The “blackmail” reference was to warnings issued by EC officials in recent days that food aid keeping 3 million Bosnians alive might be suspended unless the political leaders submit to a negotiated solution.
“We ask that we get back occupied territories. Serbs cannot make a Serbian republic on Bosnian territory, nor keep those cities and villages where they have committed genocide and ethnic cleansing,” Izetbegovic said.
He called for stricter sanctions against Serbia for refusing to compromise, and he demanded punitive measures against Croatia, which has backed Bosnian Croat aggressions.
U.N. and EC observers have reported large influxes of Croatian troops into southwestern Bosnia in recent days. And intelligence sources in the Serbian and Yugoslav capital of Belgrade have confirmed a huge buildup of Yugoslav army forces in eastern Bosnia.
Western mediators sought to put a good face on Monday’s session, despite the diametrically opposed positions taken by the combatants.
Britain’s Lord Owen, the EC mediator, pointed to the agreement to continue talks as cause for hope for an eventual solution.
A joint declaration signed by Izetbegovic, Karadzic and Bosnian Croat chieftain Mate Boban reaffirmed their purported commitment to an agreement announced Nov. 18--and since repeatedly violated--under which the warring parties were to assure safe passage of humanitarian aid convoys.
But the Bosnian Serb military commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, refused to attend both the Nov. 18 meeting and Monday’s session. Although Karadzic signed the agreements in his absence, Mladic’s forces have stepped up bombardment of Sarajevo in recent days and have repeatedly blocked humanitarian aid convoys.
Western-mediated peace talks on Bosnia had been dormant since late September, when the Sarajevo leadership rejected the plan for division proposed by Karadzic and Boban.
But as EC foreign ministers prepared for their final meeting before year’s end, they made a last-ditch attempt to force a settlement.
Williams, The Times’ Vienna Bureau chief, reported from Vienna. Special correspondent Silber reported from Geneva. Times staff writer Norman Kempster, in Rome, also contributed.