PRECEDE SARAJEVO Bosnian Serbs, Croats Reportedly Agree On Truce
GENEVA (AP) _ Serbs and Croats agreed on a nationwide truce and troop pullback that would be part of a settlement to end the 15-month-old war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said today.
The two former enemies, in Geneva negotiating a peace plan for the former Yugoslav republic, also agreed that a transitional body representing Bosnia’s three warring factions should govern until new political arrangements take hold.
″I do think it was very, very important day,″ Karadzic told reporters after a meeting with Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban, overseen by international mediators. ″Serbs and Croats are going on toward an overall agreement.″
The accords, though requiring ratification as part of an overall peace deal, further isolated Bosnia’s Muslim president, Alija Izetbegovic, who has refused to discuss a Serb-Croat plan to divide Bosnia into three ethnic states.
But numerous cease-fires have collapsed in Bosnia, and the Serb-Croat alliance is a recent development in a war that broke out after Serbs took up arms against Muslims and Croats who voted to secede from Yugoslavia.
More than 138,000 people have been declared dead or missing since the fighting began. Serbs have since overrun 70 percent of Bosnian territory, and the Croats have taken control of much of the rest. Their gains have left the Muslims, Bosnia’s largest pre-war community, in control of just a few isolated pockets.
The military accord announced today calls for a countrywide cease-fire, pullback of heavy weapons, separation of forces and monitoring by U.N. forces. The nine-member transitional governing council would be evenly divided among Serb, Croat and Muslim representatives.
The accords were carried over from a peace plan drafted by the European Community’s Lord Owen and former U.N. envoy Cyrus Vance.
Owen and Vance’s successor, Thorvald Stoltenberg, have abandoned the plan’s main feature, a 10-province division of Bosnia designed to prevent Serbs and Croats from joining their neighboring motherlands.
Serbs rejected the Vance-Owen plan, and the new plan proposed by the leaders of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant state, and Croatia, another breakaway Yugoslav republic, was introduced two weeks ago.
The Muslim-led government opposes the latest plan, fearing the Muslims will receive the least land. It also fears that the Serb state would merge with Serbia and the Croat state would be absorbed into Croatia, another breakaway Yugoslav republic.
But after 15 months of battlefield losses, most members of the Bosnian presidency have agreed to at least consider it.
Earlier in the day, seven members of the presidency negotiating the plan in Geneva said they will meet Izetbegovic in Sarajevo on Wednesday to brief him on the proposal.
The apparent aim was to prod Izetbegovic, who heads the collective presidency, to drop his boycott and bargain over the plan.
Izetbegovic told Sarajevo radio his colleagues have no authority to discuss the country’s future and claimed a majority of them oppose the proposal.
Karadzic and Boban agreed last week that Bosnia should become a confederation of three ethnic states. Today, Karadzic urged the Bosnian government to bargain or be crushed in war.
If the Muslims reject the plan and keep ″striving for a unified Bosnia through war, the Serb side will have to follow its path″ and then ″Serbs and Croats could decide about their future on their own,″ he warned in an interview with the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency.
Owen and Stoltenberg scheduled a meeting at U.N. headquarters in Geneva on Thursday of countries sponsoring the talks, including the United States, Russia, China, Japan and many European nations, conference spokesman John Mills said.
The move seemed aimed at injecting momentum into the 10-month-old peace talks, but foreign mediation has been unsuccessful so far.
In Bosnia, Tanjug reported fighting between Serbs and government troops near the northeastern city of Brcko, Bihac in the northwest and the central town of Trnovo.
Muslim-Croat fighting also persisted in a strategic cluster of towns in northern and central Bosnia. Tanjug said the most intense skirmishes were around Zepce, Zavidovici, Mostar and Jablanica, but offered no details.
The agency also reported continued battles around Maglaj, 40 miles north of Sarajevo.
Croats and Muslims were allied against rebel Serbs when the civil war broke out. But the Muslim-Croat alliance collapsed several weeks ago when Muslims drove out Croats after weeks of Croat offensives in the region.