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Rift between Serbs is biggest challenge to peace in Bosnia

July 6, 1997

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Bosnia’s peace is imperiled now more than at any time since the end of fighting in late 1995. This time, it is because of an intra-Serb feud about corruption and Bosnia’s future between war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic and his successor.

Supporters of Karadzic _ who was forced out under Bosnia’s peace agreement but retains widespread influence _ are trying to oust the elected president who replaced him as leader of Bosnia’s Serbs.

Karadzic loyalists have defied President Biljana Plavsic’s order disbanding parliament and are trying to use the legislature to impeach her. And an unconfirmed report Sunday said the army _ Plavsic’s last pillar of support _ had turned against her.

Plavsic, Karadzic’s protege-turned-rival, alleges Karadzic still controls much the territory and profits from corruption. She accuses Karadzic and his loyalists of controlling a black market that nets vast sums of money by smuggling fuel, cigarettes, timber and drugs while leaving the vast majority of Bosnian Serbs in poverty.

Karadzic loyalists continue to harbor hopes for an eventual merger with neighboring Serbia, and accuse Plavsic of bowing to international powers overseeing the Dayton peace plan.

The plan requires that Bosnia stay whole and that its two halves _ a Serb one and a Muslim-Croat one _ work together in a national government.

There are still huge problems between Muslims and Croats. But it is largely the Serbs, who instigated Bosnia’s war and now are resisting the Dayton deal, who will determine whether there is lasting peace.

Karadzic espouses Serb separatism and is accused by an international tribunal of ordering slaughters of Muslims and Croats to scare them off Serb-claimed land.

A key provision of the peace agreement is that refugees be allowed to return to their pre-war homes, even if they are within sections controlled by battlefield enemies.

If Karadzic consolidates control, refugees would be blocked from homes, Bosnian Serbs would push for joining neighboring Serbia, and frustrated Muslims may be tempted to attack when international soldiers withdraw.

If Plavsic prevails, Bosnia’s moribund joint institutions have a chance. And by weakening Karadzic, she could make it more likely he eventually will answer to the genocide charges.

A stalemate would split the Serbs’ half of Bosnia both geographically and politically between Plavsic’s northwest and Karadzic’s east _ and could lead to intra-Serb fighting.

``It is a defining moment for Dayton, for the peace process, for the international community and for (the Serb republic),″ said David Foley, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He said Karadzic ``continues to exercise an extremely pernicious influence″ in Bosnia.

Diplomats in Sarajevo said the U.S. envoy to the region, Robert Gelbard, had been ordered not to leave the Bosnian capital until the Serb question is resolved.

Plavsic often has seemed even more nationalistic than Karadzic, and Muslims remain deeply suspicious of her. But she has forged an unlikely alliance with the international community. Plavsic sees Dayton, which gives Serbs broad autonomy, as the best deal Serbs are likely to get.

She has keyed on one issue in which Karadzic seems vulnerable _ corruption.

``The victims in the war did not die for a state of thieves,″ she declared Friday in her northwest stronghold of Banja Luka. ``There is a stratum of 200 criminals at the top of the state.″

Plavsic brought the feud to a head last week when she tried to fire Interior Minister Dragan Kijac, whom she accused of smuggling at the behest of Karadzic. She released documents supporting charges that Karadzic and allies made millions on secret trade with the Muslim-Croat federation.

Meanwhile, the Serb republic is an economic basket case. Joblessness is high, and public morale low. Serbs get only 2 percent of international aid destined for Bosnia because of the republic’s poor cooperation with the peace agreement.

Some Serbs seem at a loss over the leadership crisis. Many back Plavsic as brave to confront Karadzic loyalists. Some people in Pale fear that if Karadzic loses the struggle, their city will be given short shrift by Plavsic.

Karadzic loyalists may be ``thieves, but so are the Banja Luka people,″ said Rajko Milic, 48. ``They just want it all for themselves. Karadzic might be a thief, but he is also our hero.″

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