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October 17, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 160

Potholes on the ``Peace Highway''

by Filip Svarm

``Croatia is a state we will recognize,'' said then Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic on August 7, 1992 after meeting with his Croatian counterpart Franjo Greguric in Budapest, and added: ``I wanted to open the highway tomorrow, but they didn't say anything. (...) There must be a political reason.'' The opening of the Belgrade-Zagreb highway became one of the ``first steps'' in all subsequent announcements on the normalization of Serbian-Croatian relations and speculations related to the issue. The matter concerns meetings between Serbian and Croatian Presidents Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, the Serbian-Croatian declaration on the normalization of relations in Geneva, the exchange of pseudo-diplomatic offices, the ``Zagreb agreement,'' Yugoslav Vice-PM Zeljko Simic's visit to Zagreb, Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic's return visit made on the condition that he travelled along the Zagreb-Belgrade highway without stopping, and initiatives by the international community. All of these announcements and optimistic forecasts ended ignominiously. Panic's political position in Belgrade was well-known and the unyielding Krajina Serbs defied him, while, according to international mediators, neither side was interested in the success of the second round of talks between Zagreb and Knin on economic issues and the opening up of communications; while Milosevic, an as of yet untransformed peace-broker, explained that he wasn't interested in the opening of the highway because, thanks to the ``unjust sanctions,'' it would serve only one side.

However, after the break between Belgrade and Pale (Bosnian Serb political center), the posting of observers along the Drina River and the beginning of an easing of sanctions, the previously most important line of communication in the former Yugoslavia has become more topical than ever. The interest of the Serbian leadership lies in the continued supplying of Krajina (the ``Corridor'' must be avoided if the authenticity of the blockade of the Bosnian Serbs is to be retained) and the preservation of Serbia's influence; Croatia's interest lies in linking up its regions adequately and achieving the first tangible results of what is defined by Zagreb as the ``peaceful reintegration of the UNPA zones.'' Several facts which seem to offer an opportunity for a big compromise are visible.

In the first place, there is Croatia's readiness to start opening communications with the highway, in accordance with the 1991 Vance peace plan, i.e. at resolving the problem of who controls the part passing through Krajina (48 kilometers between the villages of Gornji Rajici and Dragalici near Okucani). A railway line, an oil pipeline, a telephone line and the river route along the Sava run close to the highway; but if we take into consideration the importance of the severed links between Zagreb and Dalmatia, then the question of priorities becomes a dual one. All the more so as communications with Osijek, Vinkovci and Zupanja have been mended to some extent via the Podravska highway, while further east lies Serbia. This is why many believe that the matter concerns mutual concessions by Milosevic and Tudjman. Namely, compared to opening a railway line via Knin, putting the highway into use for its entire length would benefit Serbia, especially now that the process of easing sanctions has started. As a reward for his cooperative behavior, Milosevic could be granted a lifting of the blockade on transit traffic through Yugoslavia and the right to use the oil pipeline. There are claims that the earlier bombastically announced opening of the telephone lines between Serbia and Croatia didn't follow because Belgrade couldn't get the dialing number as this would have been a sign that sanctions would be eased. Now that the international community has found a justification for promoting its interests, and because the matter concerns a trans European highway of the first order whose by-passing would be very costly and take a lot of time to set up, things stand differently. Traffic along the highway through the demilitarized zone around Okucani in Croatia would be unrestricted, while convoys travelling to Krajina would be controlled by UNPROFOR. It is interesting that Petrinja via Sisak is being mentioned as the place where the convoys would branch off for Krajina, and not as might be expected, the bridge on the Sava River at Stara Gradiska, where they would have to pass through a bit of the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS). The following explanation is given for this eventual solution: Milosevic is being allowed to evade having to enforce observers along the Krajina---RS border, something long demanded by Croatia and which he at this moment isn't capable of doing, i.e. Tudjman could use the fact that UNPROFOR was controlling the above-mentioned convoys to justify UNPROFOR's further mandate in Croatia.

There is another thing linked to the normalization of Serbian-Croatian relations and the highway. This has to do with western and eastern Slavonija, which have been left without practically their entire original population. In the event of the demilitarization of Okucani, war tensions would drop and the return of refugees would be made possible, something that both sides seem to be prepared to accept. Regardless of the fact that both Zagreb and Belgrade would retain their influence, a step would have been made out of the present deadlock in Slavonija. In this context it would be possible to agree to mutual recognition without the mentioning of borders, something Milosevic insists on.

It is hard to believe that all of this will find approval in Krajina without further changes there (there are threats that there won't be any talks on the opening of the highway without ``nation-building'' concessions to Knin). It is believed that Milosevic is combining a strategy of starvation implemented through Yugoslav Customs Director Mihalj Kertes and that of a mutual ``elimination'' among oppositional local forces in order to be able to go on enforcing his will. There is also mention that the traffic via the highway, according to Belgrade's expectations, could strengthen the relevant opposition in Croatia (which unlike that in Serbia is much more open to compromise), which would decrease Krajina's animosity towards Tudjman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Croatia's eventual rejection of Serbia's goodwill at this moment would not bring positive results either on the domestic or the foreign policy planes. The wish to end the war is a general one. Milosevic and Tudjman communicate well, so that all of this can be interpreted as part of their complex machinations, which would receive adequate political treatment in the state media.

Namely, the international community's announced solution for Croatia, on a ``take it or leave it'' basis, doesn't arouse much enthusiasm in Belgrade or Zagreb. Certain rules of the game must be observed; something that neither side is yet interested in doing. By opening up the highway it would be possible to travel farther, more safely and more independently, all the more so as all eyes are focused on modes of resolving the Bosnian bloodbath. Perhaps Milan Panic was the first to realize this without understanding ``certain political reasons'' when he initiated the opening of the most important highway linking Serbia and Croatia``The Highway of Peace.''

The Serbo-Croat Peace: A Chronology

January 2, 1992

Cyrus Vance, the personal emissary sent by the UN Secretary General, publicly announced that an Agreement on a plan for peacekeeping operations in Yugoslavia (the Vance plan) had been reached in meetings with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the then Defence Minister Veljko Kadijevic. The plan adopted January 3 foresaw the demilitarization of the war zones in Croatia, the withdrawal of the JNA and the placing of these zones under the protection of the UN (UNPA United Nations Protected Areas).

February 6, 1992

Franjo Tudjman, in a letter to Cyrus Vance, fully committed his government to the acceptance of the concept and the planned deployment of UN peacekeeping forces.

February 11, 1992

Borisav Jovic, president of the Government Committee for Cooperation with the UN, informs the UN that ``nothing remains in the way of the arrival of the `blue helmets','' because the SFRJ (Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia) Presidency accepted the peace plan after an uninterrupted three day session from January 31 to February 2, despite the bitter opposition of RSK (Republic of Serb Krajina) President Milan Babic. In the end, RSK Parliament President Mile Paspalj voted for the plan in place of Babic. On February 6, meeting in Glina, the majority of that parliament voted to accept the plan.

July 29, 1992

On the British frigate ``Avenger,'' in international waters in the Adriatic, military representatives of the SRJ Federal Republic of Yugoslavia---(General Stupar) and Croatia (General Bobetko) discussed the withdrawal of the JNA from the Dubrovnik region and the status of Prevlaka peninsula.

August 8, 1992

Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic met with Croatian Prime Minister Franjo Gregoric in Budapest. An agreement to exchange war prisoners was signed and later carried out, which was one of the reasons for Panic's replacement.

September 28, 1992

In Belgrade, Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen reached an agreement with Dobrica Cosic regarding his meeting with Franjo Tudjman.

September 30, 1992

SRJ President Dobrica Cosic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman signed a joint declaration in which: 1) the commitments made regarding the inviolability of existing borders (unless peacefully agreed to) at the London Conference were confirmed; 2) it was agreed that more decisive actions to return all refugees to their homes would be made in cooperation with UN peacekeeping forces; 3) it was agreed that the JNA would withdraw from Prevlaka by October 20 in keeping with the Vance plan and that area's security would be assured by demilitarization and the deployment of monitors; 4) it was agreed to found intergovernmental committees to consider all unsolved problems; 5) the obligation to invest maximum efforts to achieve a fair and peaceful solution in Bosnia-Herzegovina was undertaken; 6) ethnic cleansing was condemned; 7) the arrival of international monitors at airports in the SRJ and Croatia was welcomed...

October 20, 1992

Cosic and Tudjman signed the Second Geneva Declaration, which foresaw: the opening of representative offices in Zagreb and Belgrade; the reopening of roads, railways and telecommunication links; the solution of the questions of personal property, pensions and other problems related to people's economic well-being; researching problems related to dual citizenship.

July 17, 1993

Milosevic and Tudjman met in Geneva. In a joint statement they denied that they intend to divide Bosnia.

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