Serbs, Croats press Muslims on partition Milosevic, Tudjman outline plan

July 18, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- While Muslim leaders in Sarajevo resist pressure to carve Bosnia into ethnic states for Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, Serbian nationalist leaders are looking beyond partition toward the extinction of Muslims as an independent political force.

Leaders of the Serbian nationalists in Bosnia, whose forces control more than 70 percent of the former Yugoslav republic, have said they are prepared to exchange land in a peace settlement and allow Muslims to have what they call "a small Muslim state" surrounded by larger states for Croats and Serbs.

DTC This is the plan that the presidents of Serbia and Croatia, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, have put forward in outline form at international peace talks in Geneva.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government has rejected the Serbian-Croatian plan, but Bosnia's collective presidency conditionally agreed yesterday to attend a new round of peace talks in Geneva.

As Serbian nationalist officials discussed the stalled Geneva talks this past week, there was a recurrent warning to President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia that the consequences could be more dire.

The message was that if the government refuses to negotiate on partition, the war against the Muslims will continue and worsen until Serbs and Croats are in a position to divide all of Bosnia between them. This would leave nothing for the Muslims, the largest population group before the war.

The warning was offered in the context of what would happen if the Muslims fought on until they were defeated. But it seemed clear that the Serbian nationalists backing Radovan Karadzic, who is the president of the self-proclaimed Serbian republic in Bosnia, have begun to consider eliminating any Muslim political entity.

This would be consistent with Serbian nationalist claims that Muslims are not really a nation at all, like Serbs and Croats, but people who were Serbs and Croats until Josip Broz Tito, the Communist leader, gave Muslims "nationality" in 1971.

When Mr. Karadzic was asked what the consequences would be if the Muslim leaders continued to hold out against partition, he said the demand for a state without ethnic divisions would mean that Muslims, who accounted for 44 percent of the population of 4.4 million in 1991, could dominate Serbs and Croats as soon as their higher birth rate gave them an absolute majority in the population, which he said could come in as little as five years.

Serbian nationalists have said throughout the 15-month war that the Muslims' aim was to establish a "fundamentalist Islamic state" in Bosnia as a base for Islamic expansion across Europe.

Mr. Karadzic continued: "We do not agree to accept Muslim domination. If they do not agree to accept their own state, then they will have to accept domination by Serbs and Croats, and the war will continue."

The Serbs' leader said that if Bosnia were divided into only two states, Serbian and Croatian, Muslims would be granted "autonomous" status, but not political independence, within each state, just as Hungarians and Muslims in Serbia had autonomy in Vojvodina and Kosovo until Mr. Milosevic withdrew the status in 1989.

For Muslims and for the rest of Europe, a Bosnia divided between Serbs and Croats could have dire implications. More than 1 million Muslim refugees have crowded into the few enclaves in Bosnia that have survived "ethnic cleansing." If the Muslims were limited to "autonomous regions" within ethnic states that would in practice be parts of Serbia and Croatia, many Muslims would be likely to flee. Most European states have already said they will not accept more Muslim refugees.

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