Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Eastern Bosnia Falls, Reluctant Muslim Leader May Agree to Peace Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Eastern Bosnia Falls, Reluctant Muslim Leader May Agree to Peace Plan

Article excerpt

AS the Bosnian Army continues to lose territory and the Serbs put the finishing touches on their "ethnic cleansing" campaign against Muslims and Croats, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic is moving grudgingly closer to signing a peace plan he has until now vigorously rejected.

By signing the agreement, Mr. Izetbegovic would be making hefty concessions. Political observers and Bosnian government officials say Serb gains have left him with few other options. But such a move also could isolate the Bosnian Serbs, making them the sole object of Western pressure to sign the plan.

"Izetbegovic's back is up against the wall," says Senada Kreso, spokeswoman for the Bosnian Ministry of Information. "We don't like the maps and the provincialization of Bosnia, but continuing the war just means more bloodshed."

Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and Izetbegovic, a Muslim, all have agreed to sign the first two portions of the plan proposed by United Nations envoy Cyrus Vance and European Community envoy Lord David Owen. These two parts call for the recognition of Bosnia as an independent state and demobilization of the three armies.

But only Mr. Boban has signed the third and stickiest part of the plan, which proposes dividing the republic into 10 semi- autonomous regions, leaving the Muslims, who make up 44 percent of the population, with the least land proportionally.

"The peace option should be followed because we just don't have the strength to continue anymore," Izetbegovic told Oslobodjenje, Bosnia's only functioning newspaper, before heading to the United States last week for a meeting with Vice President Al Gore Jr. and peace talks in New York. "If we are to agree on a settlement we should do it now rather than later."

Cerska, a Muslim-dominated pocket in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, fell to Serb forces last week and UN observers say the rest of the region is under continuing Serb assaults.

"The Serbs have been amassing troops in the region, and I'm afraid they have the means necessary to take the whole area," said French Gen. Philippe Morillon, commander of the 8,000 UN troops in Bosnia. The Serbs control about 65 percent of Bosnia while Muslims tenuously hold one-tenth of the land.

General Morillon said the fall of Cerska has pushed Muslims into neighboring Srebrenica, a town whose population has swelled to 60,000, double what it was before the war. Yesterday, Serb forces reportedly broke through a Muslim blockade at Srebrenica.

"The Serbs have just decided to empty the area," Morillon said. "There are some of the weakest and most elderly people in Srebrenica that are really dying from hunger. They are in desperate need of flour, salt, and medical supplies," he added. "There are only Serb soldiers roaming the streets of the town now. …

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