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Warring Factions Agree on Plan to Divide up Former Yugoslavia

By Blaine Harden
The Washington Post

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia

Leaders of strife-torn Bosnia's Serb and Croat factions revealed Thursday that they had agreed to stop fighting each other and would move to divide up the former Yugoslav republic without regard for the wishes of Slavic Muslims who form Bosnia's largest communal group.

The agreement, which emerged from a secret meeting Wednesday night in the Austrian city of Graz, makes no mention of the Muslims, who account for 44 percent of Bosnia's 4.4 million population and dominate the current government.

The Graz plan appears to deny Muslims political control of scores of towns and cities where they had been in the majority for centuries. A map displayed by the Serbs gives the Muslims an island of territory described as "Alija's Pashalik," or little domain -- so-called after Bosnia's Muslim president, Alija Izetbogovic -- and a small, separate stub of land in the republic's northwestern corner.

Muslim leaders expressed outrage at the agreement, which was heralded Thursday by state-controlled media in both Serbia and Croatia. "They can stuff it up their shirts," said Bosnian Vice President Rusmir Mahmutcehajic.

Bosnia's Muslims have lost vast amounts of territory to local Serb insurgents, militiamen from neighboring Serbia and the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army in a month-old offensive that produced widespread death and destruction and created nearly a half-million refugees. At the same time, Croat militiamen in southwestern Bosnia have occupied a large chunk of that region with the support of military officers and heavy weaponry supplied by the adjoining Croatian republic.

The Graz agreement, which was negotiated by ethnic leaders who take their orders from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, seems to ignore current tripartite negotiations among Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats that have been going on for months. It also seems to belittle U.S. and EC attempts to use diplomatic and economic threats to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia, which has been a bloody ethnic battleground since it gained international recognition of its independence from Yugoslavia a month ago.

Given the chaos and violence that have overtaken Bosnia in recent weeks, it remains unclear if the Serb-Croat partition plan will be allowed to take effect unchallenged. Washington, the EC and the United Nations are likely to lean heavily on Croatia and Serbia -- short of military intervention -- to secure the Muslims a voice in the future of Bosnia, but the continued refusal of Serbia to halt the Serb offensive there suggests that raw power is now the overriding factor in decision-making.

On that score, Serbia and Croatia are well-armed and capable of fighting for several months or longer, while the Muslims are poorly armed and on the verge of military defeat.

Milosevic said Thursday that no division of Bosnia is proper without Muslim participation and consent, but the devastating military campaign of Serb forces under his control -- forces that now occupy 70 percent of the republic -- seems to belie his professed interest in peaceful discussion.

Muslims acknowledge that they have neither the military power nor the foreign support to stop Serbia and Croatia from carving up Bosnia. Serb forces currently surround Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and hold its estimated 300,000 remaining inhabitants under virtual siege on bare subsistence rations. The historic, ethnically diverse city has been severely damaged by days of Serb shelling, and more than 100 residents have been killed.