Peace Plan Revisions Discouraged; Bosnians’ Changes Could Be ‘Dangerous’

The Washington Post
August 31, 1993

GENEVA – Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic faces increased pressure from international mediators at the next round of peace talks here to abandon his demand for substantial revisions to a draft plan that carves Bosnia up into three ethnically based ministates, according to U.N. sources.

Instead of pressuring the Serbs and Croats to cede more land to the Muslim-led Bosnian government, mediators Thorvald Stoltenberg and David Owen appear set to adopt a virtual “take-it-or-leave-it” position when talks resume Tuesday, the sources said. Their partition plan, unveiled 10 days ago, would give the Muslims control of about 30 percent of Bosnian territory, the Croats 18 percent and the Serbs 52 percent, even though the international community had vowed not to reward Serb aggression in the 17-month-old war.

“It would be dangerous if any of the parties came back {to Geneva} with a long list of adjustments, or even a short list,” said a U.N. source, clearly referring to Izetbegovic’s hopes for getting a better deal.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the plan could be fine-tuned but that any demand for major revisions might prompt the Serbs to back out after having approved the proposal at a weekend session of their self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament.

“These concessions aren’t going to stay on the table indefinitely,” the U.N. source said, echoing Serb warnings.

The mediators’ stance appears to be part of a trend in which U.N. officials here and in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, seeking to wrap up an accord, are siding increasingly with the Serbs and Croats, who have badly beaten back the Muslims in the war.

Critics have described the U.N. stance as appeasement. U.N. officials defend it as realism because the United States and its allies have balked at intervening militarily to roll back Serb and Croat territorial gains. As a result, the partition of Bosnia must meet Serbo-Croat specifications, they say.

“The mediators are charged by the international community to reach an agreement,” the source said. “Look at the tools they are given.”

Izetbegovic, whose inability to fly out of Sarajevo forced the resumption of talks to be delayed a day, reportedly told Sarajevo radio today that there is little hope for getting any new concessions in Geneva. “I feel like a thirsty man who is {being} sent to the desert to look for water,” Izetbegovic said. “Our people are looking for peace, but the proposals {the mediators} are offering us are worse than war.”

The Bosnian Parliament refused to explicitly back the partition plan in a meeting this weekend. The plan gives the Muslim-led government territory in four separate, land-locked parcels, and the government is holding out for two concessions: a land corridor through Serb territory to link Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia to Sarajevo; and a land corridor through Croat territory to connect Muslim land in central Bosnia to the Adriatic Sea. Many Balkan experts support Izetbegovic’s contention that the new Muslim state would be unviable without those lifelines.

The Bosnian government’s anger at what it perceives as Western hypocrisy in condemning war crimes but not taking action to keep them from being committed surfaced at a special meeting convened today by the International Committee of the Red Cross to condemn the prevalence of such crimes in the Balkan conflict. The Bosnian government initially refused to send a delegation to what its officials termed an “alibi conference,” but relented after a special plea from the Swiss government.

At the conference, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called once more for the aggressive prosecution of war criminals. His position was backed by a number of foreign officials, including Warren Zimmermann, the State Department’s director for refugee programs and a former ambassador to Yugoslavia.

“We expect this tribunal to be impartial and thorough,” Zimmermann said, referring to a war crimes tribunal established by the United Nations in May. “It should serve as a model for other conflicts and a warning to those who believe that they can avoid punishment for despicable acts.”

The conference took place just a few hundred yards from the U.N. building where Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic – both accused by the State Department as likely war criminals — have been key participants in the U.N.-sponsored peace talks.

“The U.N. is talking about defense of human rights here, but it’s also talking with the real war criminals next door,” said a human rights official participating in the three-day conference.

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.