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December 12, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 168
Surprise Meeting

Buying Time

by Nenad Lj. Stefanovic

When Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the presence of British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told several hundred journalists quite confidently on Sunday evening (December 4) that the "forces favoring peace in the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) were growing stronger", those familiar with his way of doing things concluded that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic could find himself facing a big problem. There was an analogy for this line of reasoning. Whenever Milosevic uttered a similar sentence and claimed that somewhere in Yugoslavia "the forces of progress were gaining in strength" during the time of his political rise, as a rule the "people would protest" and the local leadership would come toppling down.

The next morning, Milosevic met with a group of RS Assembly deputies who complained to him about Radovan Karadzic and the RS leadership in Pale (Bosnian Serb political center) and claimed that the real truth about the guarantees given to the RS by the international community with regard to the B-H union had been concealed. (Well informed sources claim that this was the third illegal meeting between Milosevic and Bosnian Serb deputies - that seven deputies from the Semberija region and then thirteen from the Banja Luka Krajina had met with Milosevic at their initiative or were invited for "consultations"). That same evening, the official Bosnian Serb five-member delegation led by Bosnian Serb Foreign Minister Aleksa Buha met with Milosevic. They ran into deputies that had dropped in on Milosevic of their own initiative, i.e. "without authorization". The official delegation had come to Belgrade to find out if there was any new information with regard to the Contact Group for Bosnia's plan and to ask Milosevic to renew official contacts with Pale and re-establish telephone lines. However, Milosevic was told that Pale had not changed its stand and was cautioned against meeting with deputies who visited him on their own initiative. Buha did sign a protocol on the Bosnian Serb Assembly's readiness to debate the Contact Group's plan, but quickly denied everything upon his return to Pale.

On Tuesday, everybody listened repeatedly to a tape of the contradictory statement by the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) Executive Committee on talks with Milosevic and wondered about the firmness of Karadzic's stand. On Wednesday, only three days after Milosevic foresaw a strengthening of peace-oriented forces in the Bosnian Serb Republic, Karadzic told a press conference in Pale that the "new interpretations" of the international peace plan "were a good starting point for further talks with the Contact Group" and all world news agencies reported that the Bosnian Serbs would return to the negotiating table, but that it remained to be seen when. That evening, for the first time since the break in relations between Belgrade and Pale (on August 4), Radio-Television Serbia broadcast some information on the activities of the RS leadership. With the announcement that the Bosnian Serbs were prepared to return to negotiations and end the war, viewers were also able to see Aleksa Buha. It's probably still too early for Karadzic to make an appearance.

It became clear last week that some "popular dissatisfaction" was smoldering in Pale. Karadzic admitted so for the first time when he said that 15 of the RS Assembly's 82 members were members of the "Left" and that they seemed to be close to the "Left" in Serbia. This was Karadzic's indirect way of saying that Pale would no longer be saying that important Assembly decisions had been reached "unanimously". A similar thing could be discerned from a statement made by RS Socialist Party president Dragutin Ilic, who thinks that there is a serious crack in the SDS. He believes that there is a sharp dividing line between supporters of the democratic option in the SDS (mostly the party's founders) and the "clerical-nationalist line which even controls Karadzic". RS Vice-President Biljana Plavsic who belongs to the "clerical-nationalist" option, along with RS Assembly Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik, recently confirmed that Milosevic had started driving wedges between Bosnian Serbs. She said that the official delegation headed by Aleksa Buha had visited Belgrade with the aim of telling Milosevic that all his attempts - "and there were many" - to annul the results of the referendum on the rejection of the Contact Group's peace plan were in vain. Plavsic claims that Milosevic is wasting his time. He first tried to create a rift in the leadership and, when this did not succeed, started calling the deputies to visit him. Plavsic claims that this is being done systematically and that those who are "chosen" have business interests in Serbia or do not have a clearly defined stand on the Contact Group's plan. Milosevic's final goal is to win control over a simple majority in the RS Assembly, i.e. he needs 42 deputies. However, Plavsic claims that this will not be enough to annul the will of the people expressed by the referendum.

It remains to be seen how close Milosevic is to reaching 42 deputies. Diplomatic circles in Belgrade mentioned in the past few days that Milosevic had told Peace Conference on the Former Yugoslavia Co-Chairmen Lord Owen and Thorwald Stoltenberg that he had reached 25 and that this wasn't all. It was learned unofficially from the RS parliamentary delegation that there would have been more deputies, but that Karadzic and Krajisnik had persuaded some against traveling to Belgrade at the last moment. It's a safe bet that Milosevic has a few surprises up his sleeve.

News that Radovan Karadzic was ready to continue peace talks and that he was expecting to meet with some members of the Contact Group in Pale did not result in euphoria - most likely because of the belief that the stands of the two leaderships on the Contact Group's plan after four months were still absolutely opposite. It remains unclear whether Karadzic toned down his stand after the sudden discovery that Milosevic "was working actively in the field" or if U.S. Ambassador and Contact Group member Charles Thomas is responsible. Thomas made a surprise appearance in Belgrade on Tuesday evening.

The U.S. Ambassador arrived on an "unofficial visit" to Belgrade by car from Budapest and there were no plans for him to meet with Serbian officials. During many meetings with journalists and representatives of opposition parties, Thomas offered the Bosnian Serbs something nobody else on the American side had done before. He didn't ask them to sign anything, but to say, as a "show of good will that they were prepared to negotiate" and that they agreed with the proposed 51:49 division of B-H. Thomas claims that this would enable the beginning of negotiations on territorial exchanges, constitutional principles and confederal links with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The implementation of the plan would start after an agreement had been reached by all warring sides on all controversial issues. This effectively means that the existing front lines would have to be "frozen", while Bosnian Serbs would remain on territory they hold at present until (and if) a final agreement was reached. Thomas went even further in some talks and claimed that Washington wished to see Serbia without sanctions and an equal member of the international community, a member of the European Union and even a member of NATO.

RS Assembly Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik was not very impressed by the latest U.S. offer. He rejected for the umpteenth time the possibility of confederal links between the RS and Yugoslavia and claimed that Serbs would never again accept Bosnia as a state, because that would mean a new war. As far as joining Yugoslavia was concerned, Krajisnik believes that this will become possible only after the RS becomes an independent and sovereign state.

Despite the announced return to the negotiating table, the impression is that the most influential politicians in Pale still believe that the Serbs should continue to rely on force, especially at a time when the Americans are announcing that they will be resorting to their military superiority as of January. According to some speculations, Bosnian Serbs would prefer it if Dole and the Republicans were to exacerbate matters, because this would definitely split the Contact Group, and put Russia, Britain and France on one side and the U.S. on the other.

"That kind of thinking doesn't strike me as being very logical", sociologist Slobodan Inic told VREME. "I don't believe in the thesis that the Russians aren't doing anything else except looking after us. It is true that they sometimes oppose certain decisions and exacerbate matters, but only if their interests are not threatened. This story is for domestic consumption. Bringing matters to a head in Congress could lead to the mobilization of men again, the fact that we are alone again and that new victims are necessary. These eventual victims, if there are any, could later be used in a clash between the RS leadership and Milosevic."

In deciding on the importance of what was said on Wednesday in Pale concerning a return to the peace process, Inic is inclined to believe that Momcilo Krajisnik's words carry more weight than Karadzic's. "I believe that what Krajisnik said is authentic, while the other is just deceit and intended to leave an impression", said Inic. "Last summer, when the Contact Group's first plan was turned down, Krajisnik claimed that things had gone too far to turn back. This is true - there have been three years of war, countless victims and a lot of blood behind those words. Agreeing to the plan would make it obvious that the war had been unnecessary. So the RS leadership is sincere when it says that there can be 'no going back'. How do you convince someone who holds two-thirds of the territory that all they need is half, when this could have been achieved without war."

The already old story about the withdrawal of the UN peace-keeping forces from Bosnia is being used as one of the last means of persuasion. Concrete withdrawal plans are finally being drawn up at NATO headquarters in Brussels and by the parliaments of the countries that have soldiers deployed in Bosnia. Italian Senator Livio Caputo visited Belgrade last week and expressed hope that the Bosnian Serbs would soon accept the Contact Group's plan and mentioned January 12 as the final deadline.

Japanese diplomat Yasushi Akashi also visited Milosevic after Hurd, Juppe, Buha, Owen and Stoltenberg and frequently mentions the humiliating position of the UN peace-keeping force in the former Yugoslavia. Describing his position, Akashi said: "I feel like a punching bag..."

And, speaking of boxing, it seems that the most persistent fighter so far, Radovan Karadzic, is still standing firm. However, this time he is no longer "double ducking" confidently and deflecting all punches. Some weak spots are discernible. Milosevic is hitting harder and wider and those supporting him from the sidelines have given him until early January to floor Karadzic somehow.

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