Croatia reportedly dumps rebel leader

January 13, 1994|By Samantha Power | Samantha Power,Contributing Writer

ZAGREB, Croatia -- In a development that Western officials are hailing as a significant diplomatic success, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has reportedly ordered Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban to "take a long vacation."

Mr. Boban is president of the self-declared republic of Herzeg-Bosna. His troops have obstructed the passage of countless humanitarian aid convoys and conducted a military campaign that has left thousands of Muslims displaced or killed since the alliance between Bosnian Croats and Muslims broke down last May.

U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith has denounced Mr. Boban as a war criminal.

"Peace may not be at hand," one Western diplomat said, "but the removal of Boban can only improve the humanitarian situation for Bosnian civilians."

Although Mr. Boban has not made a formal exit, he was conspicuously absent from last weekend's preliminary peace talks between the Bosnian government and Croats in Bonn, Germany.

The Bosnian government's delegates to the talks, President Alija Izetbegovic and Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, want to see Mr. Boban excluded from Geneva peace talks because, according to the Bosnian ambassador to Croatia, Bisera Turcovic, "we believed in him, and he betrayed us."

Mr. Tudjman described Mr. Boban on Tuesday as a "great patriot" but said that, in the interest of next week's Geneva talks, "Croatia has shown a readiness to remove even apparent obstacles to peace."

The Croatian government, which has long denied that it can control the behavior of Croats in Bosnia, is asserting itself at a time of mounting pressure from the international community.

During a two-day visit in Croatia last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright urged President Tudjman "use his influence" with Bosnian Croats to prevent the obstruction of aid convoys, an act she classified as a war crime.

She also chided Croatia for its military involvement in the war in Bosnia and said economic sanctions might be imposed if the Croatian government did not "change its behavior."

Ambassador Galbraith has repeatedly told the Croatians, "Since you support the Croats in Bosnia, you will be held responsible for their actions."

"Croatia's new assertiveness represents a big success for international diplomacy," said the Western diplomat. "It shows threats of sanctions really work."

However, this "assertiveness" may owe more to practical military considerations than to any genuine change of heart.

Bosnian Croats have suffered such serious setbacks at the hands of the Bosnian army in central Bosnia that Slobodan Praljak, the commander of the Bosnian Croat armed forces, and Bruno Stojic, the defense minister of Herzeg-Bosna, have been replaced.

Although Mr. Boban's representatives deny reports of his imminent ouster, a spokesman did say he was "tired" and may take a trip to Israel "on official business."

Even if Mr. Boban should remain in Herzeg-Bosna, it will be virtually impossible for him to function without the support of the Croatian government.

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