Bosnian Croat leaders missed a Saturday deadline to accept elections that gave Muslims majority control in Mostar, leaving European leaders on the verge of abandoning their mission to unite the ethnically divided city.
President Clinton had pressed hard for Bosnian Croats to abide by recent election results in Mostar, seen as a crucial test of the CroatMuslim federation that is to rule half of Bosnia under the peace accord.
Fresh from a trip to Washington with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman - patron of the Bosnian Croats - Croatian officials could not convince Bosnian Croat leaders to agree to even a compromise by the European Union’s midnight (3 p.m. PDT) deadline.
“The talks have failed,” EU spokesman Dragan Gasic said. He said that the Muslim-led Bosnian government had accepted an EU proposal, but that the Croats had rejected it.
“I am afraid it’s a very sad day for Mostar,” said the EU chief in Mostar, Sir Martin Garrod. “I am deeply disappointed.”
The European Union, which has administered divided Mostar for the past two years and tried to bring its Muslims and Croats back together, has said it would leave if the Bosnian Croats failed to give in by Saturday.
The European Union probably will announce Monday whether it will make good on its threat, Garrod said.
Neither the Croats nor officials from the Muslim-held eastern half of Mostar would comment.
On Friday, after Tudjman’s brief meeting with Clinton, the White House announced that the Mostar results would be accepted and that Bosnian Croats would dissolve their self-styled state, Herceg Bosna.
But such agreements often evaporate on the ground in the Balkans.
Failure in Mostar threatens the Muslim-Croat federation, meant to serve as a counterweight to the Bosnian Serb government that controls the other half of Bosnia under the peace agreement. It also sets a bad precedent for Sept. 14 national elections, meant to be a big step toward putting Bosnia back together again.
A Muslim-led coalition narrowly won the June 30 elections in Mostar. Croats are refusing to sit on the new city council because of voting irregularities.
The tension in Mostar, site of heavy fighting between Croats and Muslims before they formed their federation under U.S. pressure in early 1994, has spread in central Bosnia, where both Croats and Muslims live.
Several Croatian Roman Catholic churches and Muslim mosques have been attacked recently. French troops in the NATO-led peace force seized a large cache of outlawed weapons from Bosnian Croat police forces, NATO officials said Saturday.