Bosnian Croat turns back on Muslims, former allies


GRUDE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Encouraged by the Bosnian Serbs' purported independence and Western reluctance to preserve the Bosnian republic, the Bosnian Croat leader said yesterday that he had no choice but to create and protect his own separate state.

Mate Boban, who calls himself the Croatian president, has adopted a ruthless pragmatism in laying claim to most Bosnian territory not yet under Serbian rebel control and abandoning the Muslim allies he blames for losing the rest of the republic.

Although Mr. Boban denied in an interview any formal deal with the Serbs to divide Bosnia, he acknowledged that the original adversaries in the bloody Balkans conflict had lately refrained from fighting each other and had more in common in their visions of the future than with the Muslims they are both now fighting.

"Everyone now has his own government, temporarily, on the freed territory he controls," Mr. Boban said of the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats. "Otherwise, there would be chaos. If you are left alone, you have to take care of yourself."

Mr. Boban and virtually all of the 750,000 Bosnian Croats he claims to represent insist that the government in Sarajevo now speaks only for Bosnia's Muslims, who are the largest of the republic's three major ethnic groups but have been herded into a handful of shell-shattered urban ghettos covering far less than 10 percent of republic land.

Mr. Boban's scathing remarks toward Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and other Muslim officials seemed to confirm a thorough collapse of the Croatian-Muslim alliance formed at the start of the war, when Serbian rebels trained their guns on the other two ethnic groups in defiance of their vote for independence.

Meanwhile, a United Nations official said the declared "safe area" for Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica was so lacking in shelter and sanitation it wouldn't qualify as a refugee camp elsewhere in the world. Conditions also were reported to be grim at two of the other planned areas, Zepa and the town of Gorazde.

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