Croatia Forms Military Alliance with Bosnian Federation
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ Croatia formed a military alliance with Croats and Muslims in Bosnia on Monday, adding muscle to efforts against Serb rebels in both countries but boosting the risk that war will flare with new fury.
It isn’t clear how the new alliance will be put into practice. A Croat-Muslim federation in Bosnia formed with U.S. encouragement has existed on paper for a year but has implemented few of its political and military provisions.
With military help from Croatia, the Croat-Muslim federation could be stronger if fighting breaks out after a Bosnian cease-fire ends May 1. But that could increase the level of violence if it prompts Serbs in Croatia to step up their battlefield help to Serbs in Bosnia. And it’s not clear how Serbia, with strong ties to both rebel groups, would react.
The Serbs, who rebelled in Bosnia and Croatia after the republics declared independence from Yugoslavia, have captured 70 percent of Bosnia’s territory and one-third of Croatia’s.
The new military alliance was announced on Croatian state television after a meeting of military and political leaders.
``This is the only and right way,″ said Gen. Rasim Delic, commander of the Bosnian government army. ``I was expecting this for the past three years.″
``With this move, even theoretical possibilities of dividing Croats and Bosnians should be prevented,″ said Gen. Janko Bobetko, commander of Croatian forces.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman said the decision was coordinated with the United States and the European Union.
Tudjman has ordered 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers out of Croatia beginning March 31, blaming them for the failure to restore government control of rebel-held territory.
Croatia’s government and the Croatian Serbs are preparing for renewed warfare. The Serbs expect to get help from Bosnian Serbs, and hope the Yugoslav army, dominated by Serbia, also will come to their aid.
A U.N. official said Monday that Gen. Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serbs, has suggested that U.N. troops in Bosnia’s eastern Muslim enclaves would have to leave if Croatia forced peacekeepers out.
Foreign ministers of the European Union meeting Monday in Brussels, Belgium, attempted to pressure Tudjman to rescind his expulsion of the peacekeepers by postponing opening trade talks with Croatia.
International mediators met with Tudjman in Zagreb, and in Belgrade with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who met separately with Tudjman and Foreign Minister Mate Granic, refused to talk to reporters.
International negotiators are pressuring Milosevic to recognize the territorial boundaries of Croatia and Bosnia _ and deflate the dream of Serb rebels in both countries to unite their captured territories with Serbia.
But Milosevic has said he will not even discuss the possibility until international sanctions against Yugoslavia are lifted.
There was no word on the result of Milosevic’s meeting with U.N. envoy Thorvald Stoltenberg and European Union negotiator Lord Owen.
In Bosnia, Serbs followed through Monday on a threat to ban land convoys to Sarajevo for a week. Air supplies, which account for about 50 percent of the city’s needs, were unaffected.
The Serbs are demanding a bigger share of the supplies, increasing their take from 23 percent to 30 percent, said Kris Janowski of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Snipers opened fire again Monday in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, killing one man and wounding another man and a 14-year-old boy. U.N. forces and snipers exchanged gunfire.
Bosnian Serbs on Monday also charged nine Muslims affiliated with Merhamet, a private Muslim charity, with spying. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to death.
A Bosnian Serb police statement said eight of those charged were from the regions around Prijedor and Banja Luka in northeastern Bosnia, and one was from Sanski Most, a town in the northwest.
Five foreign aid workers spent their third day in detention Monday in Bosnian Serb barracks at Lukavica, south of Sarajevo, with no indication when they might be released, U.N. officials said.
Bosnian Serbs have charged U.S. citizen Johnathan Knapp, a 38-year-old resident of Washington state, and four Frenchmen with collaborating with the Muslim-led government’s army, the officials said.
Bosnian Serb soldiers snatched the five, working for the private Physicians Without Borders international charity, after their convoy took a wrong turn from U.N.-controlled Sarajevo airport Saturday.
Over the last month, Bosnian Serbs have arrested two journalists, Bosnian Namik Berberovic and Jordanian Shanaat Nahrawaand, near the Bosnian capital. Both are still being held despite U.N. efforts to gain their release.