Bosnia Resists Pressure for Partitioning; Opponents, Mediators Lean on Muslim Leader

The Washington Post
September 1, 1993

GENEVA – Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic refused to drop his pleas for a better deal for his Muslim compatriots today as Serbs, Croats and international mediators intensified pressure on him to agree on a draft accord laying out the division of Bosnia.

Bosnian officials made clear that they believe the draft, which apportions most of the war-torn country to the Serbs and Croats, would reward “ethnic cleansing,” the notorious practice that has resulted in many Muslims being driven from their home areas by Serbs and Croats. But mediators at peace talks here have concluded that the carve-up plan is the best Bosnia’s Muslim-led government can get, given realities on the battlefield after 17 months of communal war.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said he expects Izetbegovic “to sign the whole package” when the talks resume Wednesday. Karadzic’s patron, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, said as he left the talks, “We are waiting for Muslim acceptance of the peace plan.”

But after 12 hours of intense talks, Izetbegovic emerged from the United Nations headquarters here, sad-faced as usual, and said, “No progress today.”

Izetbegovic found himself isolated as mediators David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg, anxious to wrap up an accord, appeared to side with the Serbs and Croats. Owen told reporters that the Serbs would “cut the country in two” unless the Bosnian government accepted the proposed accord.

“It would be a tragedy if this opportunity was lost,” Owen said.

Today’s activities indicate the sizable pressures that Izetbegovic faces in Geneva, raising questions about his freedom to make an uncoerced decision. The issue is important because the Clinton administration has said it will help enforce the accord if, among other conditions, the pact is fair and the Bosnians have accepted it freely.

The proposed accord would hand 52 percent of the country to the Serbs, 30 percent to the Bosnian government and 17 percent to the Croats. The Muslim ministate would consist of four landlocked parcels; the Serbs would have a contiguous state and would retain control of swaths of conquered territory.

A blistering statement from the Bosnian delegation noted that the U.N. Security Council and the European Community have consistently vowed to oppose Serbs’ and Croats’ gains of territory through force. The statement accused Western governments and the mediators of refusing to live up to those pledges, opting to “secure a deal which will . . . sweep an episode of genocide under the carpet of history.”

Izetbegovic met for nearly three hours with Karadzic, who has been described by the State Department as a probable war criminal. “We tried to talk about crucial issues, but we got nowhere,” said Izetbegovic’s spokesman, Mirza Hajric.

Faced with deadlock, the two sides switched to issues they could agree on in principle, including a cease-fire, prisoner swaps and the installation of a hot line between Serb and Bosnian government headquarters. No dates were set for any of these measures to be implemented, and it seems unlikely that they will even be remembered a week from now.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev met in Geneva today with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Kozyrev expressed Russia’s willingness to participate in the enforcement of a peace pact. But Kozyrev said the final decision on Russian participation would depend on the accord itself and the needs of the United Nations.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.