Its defeat all but certain, U.N.-backed peace plan is voted on by Bosnian Serbs

May 16, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

KOZLUG, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Residents of this tens frontier town voted yesterday in a referendum that has only one possible outcome. That was scrawled in graffiti on the wall of Zorana Djordjevic's home: "War is Life. The Peace Plan is Death."

"Yes, that is what I believe," Mrs. Djordjevic said in a defiant, hard-edged tone. For this prematurely gray-haired woman, who has just buried a husband and a teen-age son, there was no choice but to reject a United Nations-backed peace plan.

It was too late to turn back. For her, the three-sided ethnic war in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- the most savage fighting in Europe since World War II -- is no longer only a 13-month-old fight to create a Greater Serbia. It is now a battle over homes.

Mrs. Djordjevic's sentiments were repeated again and again yesterday, as Bosnian Serbs began a two-day referendum already labeled a sham and a delaying tactic by the United

States and its European allies.

If, as expected, the peace plan is rejected, pressure for military intervention will likely intensify on the United States and its Western allies.

Final referendum results are expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Besides the peace plan crafted by Cyrus R. Vance, the U.N. mediator, and Lord Owen, the European Community mediator, voters were asked whether they support an independent Serbian state in Bosnia with powers to join other nations. This second proposal would give Bosnian Serb leaders the right to unite with Serbia, their preferred choice, or to negotiate a confederation with Muslims and Croats in Bosnia.

After he cast his vote, Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, said he would demand a new peace plan if the Vance-Owen pact is rejected. He said he would ask former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to write a "Vance-Owen II."

The threat of foreign military intervention doesn't frighten Mrs. Djordjevic in this town on the Bosnia-Serbia border. Like hundreds of thousands of Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats, she has little to live for now. They are displaced in a swelling tide of refugees.

Two years ago, Mrs. Djordjevic was living the Yugoslav dream. Her husband spent two decades as a worker in a Swiss factory. The money he sent home bought a fabulous house by Yugoslav standards.

But the war changed everything. Fighting broke out after Muslims and Croats voted to break Bosnia from Yugoslavia.

Bosnian Serbs boycotted that polling and took up arms, hoping to stay with Serbia, now the dominant part of Yugoslavia.

The Djordjevics' dream home in the town of Kladanj was one of the first casualties. The family moved in with friends in Zvornik. Months later, they were offered a home in a Muslim village that had been "ethnically cleansed" by Serbs.

"Yes, of course it's wrong to take somebody else's house," she said. "Of course I feel bad. I want to go back to my own home, but that is burned down. My son and I have to live somewhere, don't I?"

Throughout Serbian-held towns yesterday, loudspeakers blared nationalistic songs, and maps of Bosnia on public display declared, "This is ours" -- referring to the 70 percent of Bosnian territory captured by Serbian rebels.

The town council president in Zvornik, Dragan Spasojevic, produced statistics showing why a "yes" vote is impossible in this region. Although this pleasant provincial city was 59.4 percent Muslim before the war began, there are now only a few hundred Croats and Muslims "either from mixed marriages or loyal to the government here."

The dynamic 27-year-old Mr. Spasojevic runs an impressive war-time bureaucracy. It has set up 50 polling stations in schools, cinemas and other facilities for an estimated 40,000 voters, including refugees. "Everyone is welcome to vote, Croats and Muslims, too," he said without a trace of irony in his voice.

He had little doubt about voting patterns. Parroting Bosnian Serb leaders in their Sarajevo base of Pale, he reiterated standard lines about Serbs in Bosnia not wanting to be confined to a string of isolated areas. The Vance-Owen peace plan, he said, meant giving the best industrial bases to the Muslims or Croats.

"In fact, I can't think of anyone who will vote for it," he confided. An election campaign had been quite unnecessary.

He had simply distributed educational copies of the Vance-Owen map that amounted to the local Serbian definition of hell: their town under Muslim control.

Beneath Mr. Spasojevic's cool exterior, however, it was clear he had been rattled by the abandonment of the Bosnian Serbs by President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia as a U.N. economic embargo strangles Serbia.

More thoughtful Bosnian Serbs fear that an unstoppable process of radicalization has begun. "The influence of the middle class is now over: You could compare the situation to the rise of fanatical radicals in Iran with the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran," said one.

Perhaps the only comfort for Mr. Milosevic is that the specter of Balkan fanatics from the lunatic fringes sweeping to power has so frightened some European countries that they are beginning to back Mr. Milosevic, adding weight to his emerging role as peacemaker in the war he started to create a Greater Serbia.

As one European diplomat put it, "Far better the devil you know than the devil you don't know."

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