BELGRADE -- Signs of discord among Bosnian Serb leaders became clear this week after an emergency session of their parliament. The session was called to proclaim martial law throughout Serbian-held Bosnia. But after two days of heated debate, the legislators refused to follow their leader, Radovan Karadzic.
Many deputies were openly hostile to the proposal, which would have deposited all power into the hands of Dr. Karadzic and his military chiefs. Instead a compromise was reached allowing a "selective" imposition of martial law when "vital Serb interests are threatened."
The session was called against the backdrop of recent Bosnian Muslim military success. The newly confident Muslim troops -- in some instances aided by the Croats -- have captured significant amounts of territory from the Serbs in the northwest Bihac region, central Bosnian Kupres plateau and around Sarajevo.
Dr. Karadzic conceded publicly that demands for martial law "came at the moment when the 5th Corps of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina was advancing near Bihac, but also in some other areas." The demands were made by Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic and his top aides. Dr. Karadzic and a few hard-line politicians endorsed them.
The introduction of "strict discipline" on the entire society would allow the military far greater control over all resources. Recent Serbian military setbacks are seen as being directly related to shortages of fuel. In the past, General Mladic and his commanders were able to quickly redeploy their armor and effectively use their superiority in tanks and heavy guns. "Now they have to save fuel," a Bosnian Serb said.
The proposal had an added appeal for Dr. Karadzic, since it would have removed the need to hold new parliamentary and presidential elections before the end of the year. Belgrade commentators have started questioning Dr. Karadzic's legitimacy; his mandate ends next week under the Bosnian Serb constitution.
But the second most influential politician, parliamentary president Momcilo Krajisnik, opposed the idea. So did most deputies. By imposing martial law, they would in effect relinquish their power, since the parliament would be dissolved and civil laws suspended.
The rift was papered over by the face-saving compromise that denied Dr. Karadzic and General Mladic dictatorial powers. But there are more signs of war weariness among General Mladic's soldiers after Serbia's blockade of the Bosnian Serbs. It was announced that a military tribunal has started functioning this week and that an undisclosed number of people face court-martials for failure to take necessary action to halt Muslim advances in Bosnia.
Dr. Karadzic's envoy in Belgrade, Momcilo Mandic, said scores of senior officers, including the commanding Serb general in western Bosnia, have been sacked. "They allowed the Muslim side to penetrate 40 kilometers into their defensive positions, practically without firing a shot," he said. Serbian units at the time were about about 15 percent of their normal strength, which means that a huge number of soldiers were visiting their homes.
There is speculation here that Dr. Karadzic may soon face an open challenge to his leadership. President Clinton's decision to stop enforcing the U.N. arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims is expected to heighten the sense of political and psychological isolation of the defacto Bosnian Serb government in Pale.
At the same time, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is believed to be moving closer to recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a union of two states -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the self-styled Bosnian Serb Republic -- and further undermine Dr. Karadzic's position.
Mr. Milosevic reportedly discussed such a diplomatic formula with international negotiators Thorvald Stoltenberg and Lord Owen this week. In this fashion, analysts say, Mr. Milosevic would secure the same constitutional rights for the Bosnian Serbs already granted to the Muslims and Croats and thus make it easier on Dr. Karadzic's successors to accept the 51 percent-49 percent territorial division worked out by the great powers.