The latest battle in Bosnia isn’t over land won or men lost. It boils down to this: The Croat police in blue don’t want to wear the green uniforms of the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government and the gray uniforms both are supposed to wear don’t exist.
This is not the real issue, of course. The uniform dispute is a smoke screen, a struggle over control of the Croat-Muslim federation that has stoked fears among officials that the U.S.-brokered alliance could split.
If that were to happen, Serbs would likely join Serbia. Muslims and Croats, who fought bitterly in 1993, could resume hostilities. And Croatia, which has given ambiguous signals about the federation, could encourage Bosnian Croats to attach territory they control to Croatia proper.
A NATO spokesman took the unusual step of publicly warning both sides to salvage the federation and thus the shaky peace.
“The success of the (Dayton) peace agreement depends entirely on the cohesion of the federation,” warned Maj. Simon Haselock. “At the moment, the parties appear to be making very few substantive efforts to make it work.”
An international official charged with implementing the Bosnian accord, who insisted on anonymity, said the federation was “in free fall.”
Croat and Muslim officials met in Bosnia’s capital Thursday to reaffirm their commitment to the alliance, though the uniform issue remained unresolved.
“There is no alternative to the federation,” said Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa of Croatia, whose support of the federation is crucial to its viability. Hasan Muratovic, his Bosnian counterpart, said both governments agreed that “the federation is our only way.”
Matesa and Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic came to Sarajevo after Bosnian police turned away nine Bosnian Croat counterparts on Wednesday who were to share the policing of former Serb-held areas turned over to the federation. It was the second day they were turned away.
The reason? The green-clad Bosnians objected to the Croats’ blue uniforms.
Alexander Ivanko, spokesman for the U.N. police force, conceded that the clash over uniform color “is now starting to resemble a farce” but warned that a resolution was not in sight.
Jadranko Prlic, the Bosnian Croat who is federation foreign minister said the squabble over the uniforms was “more than a serious problem.”
But acting Bosnian President Ejup Ganic, a Muslim, insisted there was no problem, saying the situation would be resolved as soon as new dark-gray uniforms are made and issued to all. When that will be is not known.
While the Muslim-led government publicly preaches multiethnicity, some Muslims are clearly trying to use the federation to assert their dominion over the Croats.
Several Bosnian Croat hard-liners would much prefer uniting their territory with neighboring Croatia.