The Inevitable Is Near for Bosnia


Paris. -- The question now is not whether Bosnia will be partitioned, but how.

The Croatian government of Franjo Tudjman has three possible courses of action before it. It can stop its war now, having reconquered Krajina and Bihac. Or it could stop when Eastern Slavonia is retaken, if Zagreb chooses to risk a confrontation with Serbia proper in order to have all of Slavonia, which borders Serbia proper.

Mr. Tudjman could then enjoy his acclaim for having re-established Croatia within, substantially if not totally, its prewar frontiers. He would have acted within international law in doing so.

Ethnic cleansing, on present indications, has not been practiced by the Croatians, in its accepted sense of deliberate and systematic terrorism. It has not been needed, since the Serbs of Krajina mostly have fled of their own accord, in fear of revenge for what they did to the Croatians in 1991.

Mr. Tudjman and his countrymen would, if they stop now, be in the good graces of Germany and the United States, and, grudgingly so, of the European Union and Russia.

However Mr. Tudjman is unlikely to do this. It would leave Bosnia-Herzogovina to Serbia. The forces of the self-proclaimed rebel Serb republic in Bosnia have been reinforced by the Serbian militias fleeing Croatia. This changes a military balance already unfavorable to the Bosnian government forces.

With the continuing connivance of Belgrade, the Serbs probably can overrun Sarajevo and what remains of Bosnian independence, assuming there is no outside intervention in support of the Bosnians. Military intervention is definitely not part of Sen. Bob Dole's plan, and we have seen what U.N. Protection Force guarantees are worth. If the Croatians pull out of the war now, Bosnia probably is finished.

A greater Serbia which had swallowed up Bosnia-Herzogovina would make an uncomfortable neighbor for Mr. Tudjman's Croatia. The old Yugoslavia would have been parceled into two decidedly unequal states (three, including Slovenia, but the Slovenes, over by Italy and Austria, are happily out of all this).

Mr. Tudjman's alternative could be to help himself to western Bosnia, attacking his former allies from the rear, and dividing up Bosnia with the Serbs. This plan has been kicked around by Messrs. Tudjman and Milosevic since at least 1991, and the line of such a partition was even sketched out by Mr. Tudjman at a London Guildhall banquet in May, for the edification of the British Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Mr. Tudjman's sketch-map gives Sarajevo to Croatia, together with most of the area of southwestern Bosnia that now is held by Bosnia's mostly Moslem government forces. Serbia would get more or less the territories already held by General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb militias. The result would be two countries, both incorporating a sizable minority of betrayed and oppressed ex-citizens of what had been the internationally recognized democratic state of Bosnia-Herzogovina.

That is the first disadvantage of this plan for Mr. Tudjman. He would acquire an embittered and insurgent Bosnian minority population just after having gone to war to dispose of his subversive and separatist Serb minority.

The other disadvantage would be that Mr. Tudjman instantly loses all of the credit, potential respectability, and possibilities of sympathy and aid from Germany, the United States, and the European Union, that he has just acquired. He would join President Milosevic, General Mladic, and Radovan Karadzic (if the latter survives his present difficulties) in the camp of cynical aggression -- all of them international pariahs.

What third course is open? It is for Zagreb to maintain the present, American-brokered Croatian-Bosnian federation, and continue to facilitate the Bosnians' rearmament and defense. The Bob Dole option would have Zagreb doing this in cooperation with the United States. The real aim of this, of course, would be to reopen general peace negotiations with Serbia, this time with Croatia the patron and sponsor of Bosnian independence and democracy.

This surely is what Secretary of State Warren Christopher had in mind when he said on Sunday that Croatia's actions have provided new ground from which peace negotiations might be relaunched.

A settlement of the war is easier to imagine today than at any time since it began. Croatia is, or should be, a satisfied power. Serbia's President Milosevic, who wants sanctions on Yugoslavia lifted and a safe way out of the war he started, ought to be satisfied by a settlement which gave Serbians even a part of that 49 percent of Bosnia's territories assigned to them in the so-called Contact Group Plan of May 1994, which the Bosnian government accepted.

Mr. Karadzic, in Pale, would not be satisfied by such an outcome, but Mr. Karadzic's career seems in jeopardy, to the advantage of General Mladic, the new Bosnian Serb strongman, who (for the present at least) is allied with Mr. Milosevic.

Such an outcome would not really satisfy the Bosnians, who have suffered the most in this war, but there is nothing better available. It is not yet known whether even this settlement will become available. It is still Mr. Tudjman's move.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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