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Bosnian Croat Leader Plans to Create, Protect His Own State

By Carol J. Williams
Los Angeles Times

GRUDE, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Encouraged by the Bosnian Serbs' purported independence and Western reluctance to preserve the republic, the Bosnian Croat leader said Thursday that he has no choice but to create and protect his own separate state.

Self-styled Croat president Mate Boban has adopted a ruthless pragmatism in laying claim to most Bosnian territory not yet under Serbian rebel control and abandoning the Muslim allies he blames for losing the rest of the republic.

Although Boban denied in an interview any formal deal with the Serbs to divide Bosnia, he acknowledged that the original adversaries in the bloody Balkans conflict have lately refrained from fighting each other and have more in common in their visions of the future than with the Muslims they are both now fighting.

"Everyone now has his own government, temporarily, on the freed territory he controls," Boban said of the Bosnian Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders. "Otherwise, there would be chaos. If you are left alone, you have to take care of yourself."

Boban and virtually all of the 750,000 Bosnian Croats he claims to represent insist that the government in Sarajevo now speaks only for Bosnia's Muslims, who are the largest of the republic's three major ethnic groups but have been herded into a handful of shell-shattered urban ghettos covering far less than 10 percent of republic land.

Boban's scathing remarks toward Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and other Muslim officials seemed to confirm a thorough collapse of the Croat-Muslim alliance formed at the start of the war, when Serbian rebels trained their guns on the other two ethnic groups in defiance of their vote for independence.

Top Serbian and Croatian officials have met periodically for the past two years in what Western diplomats believe has been a series of attempts to resolve their disputes by dividing Bosnia between them so that each would have an expanded, enriched and more easily defended new state.

Boban a year ago traveled to the Austrian city of Graz for a clandestine meeting with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and the presidents of Serbia and Croatia are reported by their advisers to have discussed a Bosnian carve-up as long as two years ago.

A top aide to Karadzic effectively confirmed a Serb-Croat division plan when asked about it earlier this month.

"The Croats wanted it this way," said Slavisa Rakovic, the Bosnian Serb publicity chief in the rebel stronghold of Pale.

Rakovic described the Croats as more suitable partners in negotiations to restore peace to Bosnia because, he said, they hold the "balance of power."

Boban's chief media adviser, Slobodan Lovrenovic, likewise described the Serbs as a more credible force to contend with.

"Serb forces are there and they are going to stay there," he said of the vast Bosnian territory the rebels occupy. "You have to be realistic .... Serbs are ready to make a peace plan based on the situation on the ground."

Suspicions of a Serb-Croat plot to carve up Bosnia were rekindled just last week when the Bosnian Serb commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, and Boban's military chieftain, Gen. Milivoje Petkovic, signed a cease-fire that effectively accepted the territorial status quo.