Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic called it “the day of our determination, the day of our hope” Friday as his government agreed to relinquish most civilian governmental authority to a refurbished Muslim-Croat federation.
Although the federation has existed on paper for 20 months, the pact signed by leaders of Bosnia’s warring factions at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base sets out its structure for the first time. It assigns to the federation responsibility for education, police, courts, energy, industry, traffic, commerce, agriculture, health and refugees in territory controlled by Muslim and Croat forces.
The agreement leaves the central government with responsibility for foreign policy, foreign trade, currency, air-traffic control and several other international functions.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher described the federation agreement as “an essential building block for peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
U.S. officials said the pact seems to resolve most disputes between the Muslims and Croats, but it leaves unsettled the status of the rebel Bosnian Serbs, blamed by Washington for most of the atrocities in Europe’s bloodiest war in a half century.
However, a senior Clinton administration official said the American and European mediators hope to kick the talks “into fourth gear” over the weekend in an effort to reach an overall agreement by the end of next week.
Although many details remain unsettled, the senior official said, “Right now all these guys are acting like they want a deal.”
Leaders of Bosnia’s Muslim, Croat and Serb factions agreed in principle last month to divide the country roughly in half between the Serbs and the federation while retaining the central government as the symbol of “the internationally recognized state.” But that plan left for the Dayton talks the nettlesome questions of how to split the territory and how to apportion powers among the factions and the central government.
Friday’s agreement seems to establish a pattern for division of powers that could also be applied to territory held by the Serbs.
But the position of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who is acting as the representative of the Bosnian Serbs in the talks, became more complicated Thursday when the international war crimes tribunal meeting in The Hague indicted three officers of the Serb-led Yugoslav National Army for their part in a 1991 massacre in the Croatian city of Vukovar. Unlike the Bosnian Serb militiamen indicted earlier, Yugoslav army officers are under the authority of Milosevic’s government.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Christopher urged Milosevic to “cooperate with the war-crimes tribunal,” presumably by turning over the suspects for trial. Burns declined to characterize Milosevic’s response.
In a separate meeting with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Christopher called for a negotiated settlement of the controversy over Eastern Slavonia, the last slice of Croatian territory held by rebel Croatian Serbs. Tudjman has threatened to retake the territory by military means if the dispute is not resolved by the end of this month, and Croatian troops were reported moving toward the enclave.
The Muslim-Croat federation agreement calls for the Croats to dismantle the trappings of a separate state, called Herzig-Bosnia.