Bosnia Croats Reject Plan to Link Up With Muslims : Balkans: The abrupt turnabout is a setback for U.S. plans for a negotiated peace. The two sides do agree to halt fighting.


Leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Croatian minority have abruptly rejected a U.S.-brokered proposal for political union with Bosnia’s Muslims, dealing a setback to the Clinton Administration’s plans for a negotiated peace in the divided republic, officials said Wednesday.

However, Croatian and Muslim military leaders agreed to halt the fighting between their forces in Mostar and other central Bosnian towns, giving U.S. diplomats hope that political talks can get back on track.

The idea of a new republic that would join Bosnia’s Muslims and its Roman Catholic Croats has become the center of U.S. negotiating efforts in the former Yugoslav republic, and the Croats’ rejection of the idea left U.S. diplomats scrambling.


The diplomatic flurry reflected a new reality in the Bosnian imbroglio: After months of standing on the sidelines, the United States has suddenly replaced Europe as the main broker for any peace deal.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher strongly endorsed the proposed Muslim-Croatian combination, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the idea has “many, many advantages.”

“If they could get together, it would make for a more viable state,” Christopher said, adding that it would also make the job of international peacekeepers--including U.S. troops, if and when they are deployed to enforce a peace accord--much easier. “I don’t know whether that will happen, but it is certainly part of the peace initiative that we want to promote with as much encouragement as we can,” he said.

An earlier, European-designed peace plan would have divided Bosnia into three provinces--one for each of the country’s main ethnic-religious groups--the Muslims, the Croats and the Eastern Orthodox Serbs.

The prime minister of the Muslim-led Bosnian government, Haris Silajdzic, said that he is bitter about the Bosnian Croats’ sudden turnabout and charged that they are being manipulated by both neighboring Croatia and Serbia.

“They agreed and they backed away, probably because there was a consultation (by Croatia) with Belgrade,” the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, he said.


“We have been talking to them for months” to prevent the division of Bosnia in three parts, “but we are not able to convince them,” he said. “Frankly, I do not know where we go from here.”

U.S. officials said Charles E. Redman, the State Department’s special negotiator for Bosnia, is trying to persuade the Croats to return to talks.

One senior official, sending a pointed message to Croatia, said the United States could seek U.N. economic sanctions against Zagreb if it obstructs a solution in Bosnia.

The U.N. Security Council is already considering sanctions against Croatia because the republic has sent more than 5,000 troops into Bosnia to reinforce Bosnian Croat forces there.

The military truce was signed at the U.N. peacekeeping force base at Zagreb’s airport by Rasim Delic, the Bosnian government’s military commander, and Ante Roso, chief of the Bosnian Croat military forces.

In addition to the cease-fire, the two forces agreed to position U.N. peacekeepers in sensitive areas, withdraw artillery from front-line areas and establish a joint truce-monitoring commission.


The Muslim-led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Croats fought as allies when Serbian-backed forces rebelled against the Sarajevo government in April, 1992, but they later began fighting over land that their two communities shared.

Christopher told the Senate committee that he still opposes the idea that this week’s success in forcing a withdrawal of artillery around Sarajevo should be followed by similar operations in other towns.

“I would emphasize that each of the safe areas in Bosnia is quite distinctive and quite different and you cannot put a template down on them and have one technique be useful in other areas,” he said.

However, he added that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is moving ahead with plans to stop Serbian rebel shelling of the airport at Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia and to move new peacekeeping troops to the Serbian-besieged town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

NATO agreed to undertake those missions at its meeting in Brussels last month.