Peoples pull apart in Bosnia Fissure, not fusion: Basic aim of Dayton accord foundering on ethnic hatreds.

March 04, 1996

ETHNIC PARTITION is the order of the day in Bosnia. Hopes that Serbs and Muslims can live as neighbors are going smash in the suburbs of Sarajevo as Bosnian Serbs join a mass exodus encouraged by their leaders and goaded by the Muslin-led government. Hopes that Croats and Muslims could share an undivided Mostar lasted little more than an hour as animosity erupted among the two groups supposedly joined together in a U.S.-sponsored federation.

"The entire aim of the peace process was to start trying to bring people together," laments Carl Bildt, director of the civilian part of the Dayton agreement. "What we're seeing is a country falling apart."

Actually, Bosnia has already fallen apart, and all the West's armies and all the West's diplomats may not be able to put it back together again. In the so-called Srpska Republic proclaimed by Bosnian Serb warlords, it is estimates there are only 22,000 non-Serb residents in a population of 1.3 million. When the Croats last year put 200,000 Krajina Serbs to flight, some went to the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, ousting 30,000 Muslim and Croat residents in the process. Now 50,000 Serbs are leaving the Sarajevo suburbs, an exodus aided by despairing NATO forces over the objections of United Nations officials.

After almost four years of civil war, the killing may have stopped for the moment in Bosnia but the mutual hatreds continue with unabated intensity. With 60,000 peace-enforcers on the ground, NATO has been highly effective in keeping the Serb, Muslim and Croat armies separated from one another. But progress on Mr. Bildt's harder part of the bargain -- to bring civilians together -- has been practically non-existent.

All this bodes badly for the Bosnian future if the international "Implementation Force," or IFOR, departs on schedule at the end of the year. For what then will keep these three tribes from one-another's throats? Bosnian Serbs dream of being part of a Greater Serbia. Bosnian Croats hope for a Greater Croatia. And what now is a three-way partition, sanctioned but unacknowledged by the Dayton accords, could become a two-way Croat-Serb partition. The Muslims would be left to an uncertain fate, as would the future of the whole Balkan region.

For the United States, such an end to the brave Bosnia experiment would be a disaster. Having wisely or unwisely put its power and credibility on the line, this country must keep trying to make the best of a very troubling situation. It will not be easy.

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