YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bosnian Leader Yields, Accepts 3-Way Partition


GENEVA — 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."

Los Angeles Times Articles