Feuding Ethnic Groups Talk Fragile Peace in Bosnian Town
BOSANSKI BROD, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Dozens of people streamed over a bridge to the relative safety of Croatia on Monday despite a cease-fire in this town in Bosnia-Hercegovina and promises of peace by the republic’s ethnic leaders.
More than 40 people have died in a week of fighting among Serbs, Croats and Slavic Muslims in the villages around Bosanski Brod. A cease-fire was in effect Monday and a member of the town council tried to be optimistic.
″It’s never too late for fighting,″ said Fikret Abdic. ″But everybody realizes now that fighting will get them nowhere.″
At a meeting in Brussels, leaders of the Bosnian ethnic groups reaffirmed their support for a plan under which the republic would become independent, but with extensive autonomy for each ethnic group, said a Portuguese official. The talks are sponsored by the European Community, which Portugal currently leads.
Serbs, who comprise about a third of Bosnia’s 4.4 million people, want their areas to be independent or linked to Serbia, the largest republic of Yugoslavia.
Muslims and Croats, about 61 percent of the population, voted for independence in February. Serbs boycotted the vote.
The question of ethnic autonomy is especially thorny in industrial towns like Bosanski Brod, whose population of 33,000 is 42 percent Croat, 35 percent Serb and 12 percent Muslim.
Negotiations after clashes in the town early in March established a buffer zone and brought temporary peace. But violence surged last week after a temporary collapse of the EC-negotiated agreement. Hundreds of desperate residents fled.
Others continued to flee Monday over the Sava River, which divides Bosanski Brod from the Croatian town of Slavonski Brod. Croatia, scene of cruel fighting that has left some 10,000 dead since June, has been relatively peaceful under a Jan. 3 cease-fire agreement.
In Bosanski Brod, ″everybody’s skeptical about this truce,″ said Ilija Milicic, a 25-year-old Serb militant. ″We will not allow them to drive us out. Both Bosanski and Slavonski Brod will burn before they succeed.″