The warring parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina shifted their attention Friday from the battlefield to the peace effort, maneuvering for position before talks scheduled for Tuesday in New York.
Fighting continued in some areas, especially around the Serb-held town of Doboj, but U.N. officials said most confrontation lines were stabilizing. Much of Bosnia seemed to be settling into tense expectation.
Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey, who will represent Bosnia at the talks, presented his negotiating position Friday. In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, Sacirbey demanded a full lifting of the Serbian siege of Sarajevo, the opening of a corridor connecting the Gorazde enclave to government-held territory and the transfer of the Serbian stronghold of Banja Luka to “international forces.”
These conditions, particularly the demand about Banja Luka, seem certain to provoke strong objections from the Serbs.
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic, who is to represent the Bosnian Serbs in New York, did not respond directly. But he warned in unusually direct terms that if the talks failed, Yugoslavia might be drawn into the conflict.
“It would no longer be a war of bows and arrows,” Milutinovic said after meeting with President Jacques Chirac in Paris. “All means would be used, and this war would not end quickly. Yugoslavia is at least 10 times, even 20 times stronger from a military point of view than all the states around it.”
But he added, “If people don’t commit stupidities, in the coming weeks I think we will achieve peace very quickly.”
French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette agreed, saying, “We have probably never been closer to peace.”
In Zagreb, President Franjo Tudjman met with his nominal ally, President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia. Neither man commented after the meeting, but they are thought to have discussed ways to coordinate their strategies on the battlefield and at the conference table, despite reports of suspicion and conflict. The two now share power in large areas of Bosnia.
When the talks begin on Tuesday, Milutinovic, Sacirbey and Foreign Minister Mate Granic of Croatia are expected to meet first with Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, whose diplomacy has given momentum to the peace effort. They are then to meet with representatives of Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The meetings are to be held at the office of the U.S. Mission.
Diplomats say the two main issues will be the status of Eastern Slavonia, a region of Croatia that remains under Serbian control, and the outline of a new Bosnian constitution that would divide Bosnia between a semi-autonomous Serbian republic and the fragile Muslim-Croat alliance. The degree to which the Serbian area in Bosnia may develop ties with Serbia, the dominant republic in Yugoslavia, is a major question.
That would leave for later the drawing of Bosnia’s internal boundaries, potentially the most difficult issue. Holbrooke has said the “map issue” may be reserved for talks between the countries’ presidents.
In Zagreb and in other capitals Friday, there was much discussion in diplomatic circles of how a peace agreement would be enforced. As many as 50,000 soldiers may be needed to patrol borders and ensure that human rights are respected.
De Charette suggested in Paris Friday that the nascent Eurocorps, with soldiers from France, Germany, Spain and Belgium, should bear a large part of the burden.