In a major first step toward a peace deal, the former Yugoslav republics agreed here Friday to create a separate Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a “Republika Srpska” that would share the country with the Muslim-Croat federation.
The accord, the first of its kind in the 41-month-long war, marked a major concession by the Bosnian government, which had long refused to recognize Serbian selfrule in any part of Bosnia. But in exchange, the Bosnian Serbs agreed to relinquish a chunk of the 70 percent of the country’s territory they control, and accept just 49 percent.
Under the agreed principles, Bosnia-Herzegovina would remain a single, internationally recognized country within its current borders, though separate Muslim-Croat and Bosnian Serb “entities” would be allowed to establish their own diplomatic relationships with neighboring countries.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, who chaired the talks, declared the agreement “a milestone on the road to peace. There is now, for the first time, an agreement that, limited though it is, moves us toward peace.”
The accord will not immediately stop the bloodshed in Bosnia. No mention was made in the agreement, or during the negotiations, of a cease-fire, and NATO said Friday that the airstrikes on Bosnian Serb positions would continue. Similarly, the future of the embattled province of Eastern Slavonia, claimed by Croatia and controlled by Serbia, was not mentioned.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey said his government had simply decided to “take very unjust realities into consideration” and begin to “work back towards justice.” But he said he was willing to make concessions to end “once and for all” Serbia’s historic ambition to create a “Greater Serbia” from the ruins of Yugoslavia.
The agreement closely follows a peace plan touted for weeks by the Contact Group, which includes the United States, Germany, France, Russia and Britain. The group, led by Holbrooke, announced the accord after a seven-hour meeting at the U.S. Mission here with foreign ministers from Croatia, the Bosnian government and Yugoslavia, which represented the rebel Bosnian Serbs.
As if to underscore the difficulties facing efforts to end the war, which has left at least 200,000 people dead or missing, NATO warplanes continued to hammer Bosnian Serb forces Friday, driving home U.N. demands that the rebels lift their siege of Sarajevo. NATO officials said there was no evidence that the Serbs were moving their heavy weapons outside the 12-mile exclusion zone, as demanded by the United Nations.
In the Bosnian capital, the main boulevard was hit by a mortar round that wounded seven people on the stretch of road known as “Sniper Alley.” Serb gunners fired an anti-aircraft missile at a NATO jet, missing it, but the U.N. Rapid Reaction Force blasted the gun position with 50 artillery and mortar shells. Bosnian Serbs claimed the counterattack hit a hospital, killing 10 people, and U.N. officials said they were investigating the claim.
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