Deal could be ripped apart at number of weak points

November 23, 1995|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BERLIN -- The elaborate paper tower of the Bosnian peace agreement, impressive for having been built at all, could yet crumple if any of several weak points tears open during the next 12 months.

Perhaps the most dangerous immediate weakness was exposed right away by Momcilo Krajisnik, a ranking official among the self-declared leadership of the renegade Bosnian Serbs.

"Our delegation has not accepted the plan," he angrily declared in Dayton, Ohio, where the talks were held.

It will be up to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to make sure such words aren't backed by action. Mr. Milosevic, the domineering next-door neighbor who signed the agreement on behalf of his Bosnian Serb brethren, is undoubtedly willing to bully the likes of Mr. Krajisnik and "President" Radovan Karadzic out of power. Whether he'll have the strength and leverage to pull it off is another matter.

If not, then the agreement could be toppled in the first defiant barrage from Serbian artillery. U.S. officials have already vowed that American forces won't be dispatched to enforce the agreement if fighting re-ignites in the meantime.

Weakest part

The weakest part of the plan in the long run, however, may be the section guaranteeing the right of all refugees to return to their homes, a declaration covering more than 2 million people.

About 700,000 are now living either in neighboring Croatia or in Germany, Hungary or elsewhere in Europe. The rest are still in Bosnia, living in homes vacated by other refugees, doubling up with relatives or stuffed onto rows of cots at schools and gymnasiums.

Thousands of Muslims forced from homes in Serbian-held territory will have no desire to return unless the rebel Serbian army is disbanded first. The agreement, however, allows the Serbs to still field their own army.

Refugees who insist on returning anyway -- and there will be some, United Nations officials say -- will risk ending up in the same caldron of ethnic hatred that originally forced them to flee. They will also likely return to find their homes occupied by other refugees, forced out of some other city or town.

Indeed, any move will tend to require another. The case of Milica Gadza, a Croatian woman in the central Bosnian town of Gornji Vakuf, is typical of the possible chain reactions. She cannot move back to her home in nearby Bugojno until it is vacated by a Muslim refugee. The Muslim refugee, in turn, can't move back to her home in another village because it is still occupied by a Croatian refugee, who apparently has also been unable to move back to her home.

Refugees unable to return will be entitled to compensation, but that, too, will be tricky. In the rush to escape with their lives, many refugees either left behind their deeds or were forced to sign them over to local authorities. Several municipal and regional archives and registries were destroyed or looted in fighting.

It is also not clear who will pay for the compensation, and in what currency. Each side has its own.

In some cases, even generous compensation may not be enough to prevent uprooted people from continuing to seek revenge, and not simply because of the historic Balkan taste for retribution.

"Our mentality about home is different here," explained Husein Djulic, 53, a Muslim still trying to get back to the town of Jayce. "In America you move all the time, and nobody thinks much about it as long as you have a job and a house. Here your village is your home, and your family's home, and even if you travel or move away for a while, when you retire and grow old you always want to come back to your home."

The prospect, then, is for a three-sided population of the aggrieved, which, like the Palestinian refugees of the Middle East, will always include those willing to express their frustrations with violence. And this will endanger peace not only between the Serbs and the Croat-Muslim federation, but within the federation itself.

Problems on the map

A further weakness involves two of the narrowest slivers of land ZTC on the peace plan's territorial map. One is the so-called Posavina Corridor, a chokepoint currently about 3-miles wide near the city of Brcko. It is the sole link between Serbian holdings in northern and eastern Bosnia. The second is the main road linking the eastern Muslim enclave of Gorazde to the rest of the territory held by the Croat-Muslim federation. The peace plan guarantees it will remain secure. Bosnian Serb rebels may have other ideas, and it will take only a single sniper posted along the mountainous route to damage the guarantee.

The Posavina Corridor is so disputed that the decision on its final boundaries was deferred until after the peace agreement was signed. The two sides agreed to support a decision by an arbitrator, although their preferences are so far apart (the Muslims want the corridor closed, the Serbs want it widened) that grumbling, or worse, seems inevitable in the future.

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