Bosnian government, Serbs OK monthlong truce

June 09, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Rebel Bosnian Serbs and the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina grudgingly agreed yesterday to a monthlong cease-fire, breathing some life into expiring hopes for an end to the most vicious conflict to rack Europe since World War II.

Croatian officials and Serbian insurgents also achieved a symbolic breakthrough in their standoff over the disputed Krajina region by agreeing to launch another effort to mend the ethnic rift dividing Croatia.

But on the shifting sands of Balkan diplomacy, few among the mediators and militants appeared to be building expectations of a lasting solution to the wars that have convulsed the former zTC Yugoslav federation for three years and left an estimated 200,000 dead.

The truce agreement for Bosnia was accompanied by warnings from Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic that many previous pacts had called for a halt in fighting but "none of them worked."

Bosnian Serbs, who hold 70 percent of Bosnia, had pressed for an indefinite truce, apparently with the aim of cementing their hold on occupied territory while partition talks bogged down.

"It's a modest step, but hopefully one that represents a change in the psychology of the conflict," Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia, said of the Bosnian cease-fire.

He described the truce as an encouraging influence on the Krajina talks.

Even Yasushi Akashi, the usually optimistic United Nations special envoy, conceded the fate of the Bosnian accord would depend on both warring factions displaying a rare degree of "good faith."

Mr. Karadzic and the head of the Bosnian delegation, Vice President Ejup Ganic, had refused to meet face-to-face.

That forced the U.N. envoy to shuttle from one to the other to wring the cease-fire deal out of the two sides.

The Geneva talks were delayed for four days while U.N. officials sought to enforce a 6-week-old ultimatum for Bosnian Serb withdrawal from the protected enclave of Gorazde.

The peace process was further hampered by escalating clashes along the more than 700 miles of front line traversing Bosnia.

Mr. Akashi had appealed to both the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serb nationalists for a cease-fire that would run for four months -- a duration that mediators considered long enough to allow the warring factions to reapportion Bosnian territory between them.

But Muslims and Croats -- who have reconciled and proclaimed a new federation after a bloody, yearlong falling out -- warned that the Bosnian Serbs were likely stalling to stave off fighting during the summer when the poorly armed but more numerous government troops gain some advantage.

President Clinton, who had earlier kept his distance from U.N. and European Union attempts to pressure the Bosnian government to accept defeat and partitioning, this week endorsed the allies' strategy for bringing peace to the republic by carving it into ethnic pieces along borders drawn by force.

His speech before the French Parliament on Tuesday signaled a shift in U.S. policy, closing a gap between the international powers involved in Balkan peacemaking.

But his words removed the Bosnian government's last hopes to count on Western support for a more equitable peace.

"If you were a Muslim, you might now conclude that the best option is to stall and look for a military solution," one Western diplomat observed.

He noted that U.N. calls for more peacekeeping troops to police the cease-fire are likely to fall on deaf ears in an international community already exhausted by the Balkan conflict.

l The United States now expects an agreement on a proposal -- namely a map outlining the division of Bosnia -- in four to six weeks, said a senior U.S. official.

The goal is a territorial formula that will protect Bosnian interests and take natural boundaries into consideration, he said.

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