Yugoslavia's Civil Strife Spills into Bosnia

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BOSNIA and Herzegovina, with the most volatile mix of nationalities in Yugoslavia, may have the most to lose from a spread of ethnic violence in the country. The republic's population is 44 percent Muslim, 33 percent Serb, and 17 percent Croat.

For 40 years this rugged, mountainous republic has had peace. Yet the war next door between Croatia and Serbia has increased ethnic tensions to a level no one imagined a year ago.

"In the Yugoslav context, Bosnia is a laboratory to see if people of different nationalities can live together," says the editor of Oslobodenje, Sarajevo's largest independent daily newspaper. "If they can't, because of the racial mix, there could be more people killed here in 15 days than in 15 years in Lebanon."

Bosnia-Herzegovina has been on the brink of violence for weeks. The tension may subside if the Yugoslav Army continues to weaken, as it did last week in Croatia when it pulled back from positions in Vinkovci.

But ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a separate momentum. Egub Gascic, chief of the Bosnian Crisis Committee, told the Monitor the European Community should send observers "before it is too late."

Diplomats and observers here say tensions are due largely to a campaign of intimidation by Bosnia and Herzegovina's Serbian Democratic Socialist Party (SDS), which, with the support of the almost entirely Serbian federal Army, is promoting a strategy of regionalization that would carve the already-tiny republic into 10 ethnic regions or "cantons." Bosnia-Herzegovina is an important part of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's vision of a "Greater Serbia," they say.

"Bosnia has to be cantonized," says Velibor Ostijic, Minister of information for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a Serb who speaks for the Serbian party. "The war in Croatia means Yugoslavia no longer exists as it did. The problem is how to divide Serbs from Croats in this country."

Yet the problem for Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not as much Croats as it is Muslims, who have been in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the 16th century.

Muslims represent a sticky political problem for Belgrade. An expansion into Bosnia and Herzegovina could pull the mask off Serbia's larger intentions of territorial conquest, analysts say. A Serbian move into Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot take place, as in Croatia, on grounds of ethnic persecution. There is also no Bosnian and Herzegovinan equivalent to Croatia's openly anti-Serb President Franjo Tudjman.

Muslims have no desire to split Bosnia and Herzegovina into 10 regions. …