bosnia report
No. 4 February - March 1994
The Scandal of Geneva
by Andreas Zumach

The following is an edited version of a speech delivered at a conference on Bos- nia-Herzegovina at the Hyde Park Hotel, London on 9 December 1993.

I have been asked to reflect on the Geneva process from the Vance-Owen plan un- til the present. I would rather use the phrase "Geneva process" than "peace process", because for a long time, perhaps even from the very beginning (August - September 1992), this process has not had much to do with peace or even with the search for peace.

In retrospect, for quite a number of observers of the worsening catastrophe in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Vance-Owen plan (officially introduced into the Geneva negotiations on 2 January 1993), now looks like a lost chance; and a much better one than the Owen-Stoltenberg plan currently on the table, which openly calls for the abandonment of the sovereign state of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its divi- sion into three republics along ethnic lines.

But this observation overlooks the fact that the Vance-Owen plan, which would have carved up Bosnia Herzegovina into ten provinces under a rather weak central government, already contained the principal flaws that are only more obvious in the current Owen-Stoltenberg plan. The Vance-Owen plan introduced ethnic-cul- tural categories as the criteria for the drawing of borders and the distribution of political, administrative and military power. And the plan proposed to dis- tribute the territory in a way that would have legitimised the results of ethnic cleansing, even though not to the same degree the current Owen-Stoltenberg plan does.

A realisation of the provincial borders proposed by Vance and Owen would have left the Bosnian Muslims, who made up 44 percent of the population in Bosnia Herzegovina, with 29 percent of Bosnian territory; the 17 percent of Croatians with 25 percent; and the 31 percent of Serbs with 42 percent. Under the plan, existing army units were supposed to pull back to those provinces where each re- spective nation was in the majority. Finally, if one adds the fact that provin- cial police forces would have been under the exclusive control of the provincial governments, it becomes apparent that the Vance-Owen plan was a scheme for the permanent ethnic division of Bosnia HeÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌärzegovina.

That is why president Alija Izetbegovic and the majority of the Bosnian presi- dency as well as the government in Sarajevo rejected the Vance-Owen plan. De- spite continuing strong objections Izetbegovic finally signed the plan on 27 March 1993 - under strong pressure from the Clinton administration and after he had been given assurances by a number of Western governments that the Bosnian Serbs would also soon be pressured into the signing and implementation of the plan. These assurances were little more than empty promises - whether they came from German chancellor Helmut Kohl, or from the Clinton Administration. Such ob- viously empty promises, that in the period between March and June 1993, I often wondered whether President Izetbegovic or Foreign Minister Haris Silajdzic re- ally believed these assurances - and if so, why.

So weak was the support of the EC, the US and Russia (the major parts of the eu- phemistic "international community") for their own plan, merely named after Vance and Owen, that Owen could simply drop it overnight in early June '93 and publicly announce his support for the division of Bosnia Herzegovina. Thus the EC mediator reversed one of the fundamental principles of the London Conference of August 1992: the preservation of Bosnia Herzegovina as a unitary, multi-eth- nic, multicultural state. The EC mediator acted singlehandedly and without any prior and proper consultation neither with the EC Foreign Ministers nor the UN Security Council. By letting Owen continue without even the slightest correction all twelve EC governments de facto supported his course. "We will never support a solution that recognises the results of ethnic cleansing:; we will never sup- port an agreement that is being forced upon the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Muslims": these and similar public statements, which one could hear in these weeks in some Western capitals (especially from Bonn: Kohl and Kinkel), were nothing more than lip service meant to calm down a somewhat critical public opinion. They had nothing to do with the actual policies of the respective gov- ernments.

In intensive meetings with Presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, Owen and Vance's successor, Thorvald Stoltenberg, in late June developed the basic principles for a Bosnian confederation of three ethni- cally defined states. Milosevic and Tudjman drafted the actual proposal which was later officially placed by Radovan Karadzic and Mate Boban on the negotia- tion table. Even now Owen and Stoltenberg claim that they played no role in the creation of the proposal. The later change from "confederation" to "union of three republics" was merely a cosmetic one.

From the very beginning of the negotiation process President Izetbegovic and the Bosnian Government delegation in Geneva had been under different forms of esca- lating pressure. For elected president and government to be treated on equal footing with the warlords Karadzic and Boban was one form of pressure. One of the strongest pressures was (and still is) the continued military aggression and the always increasing suffering of the population - together with the growing realisation that the UN and international community was not prepared to stop it, not even to protect the so-called "safe havens", established by the UN Security Council in May 1993; nor to end the "strangulation" of Sarajevo; nor even to en- sure the passage of humanitarian aid.

When President Izetbegovic at first refused to negotiate on the new basis of a partition plan, Owen and Stoltenberg added massive diplomatic pressure. The two mediators openly questioned the authority and the negotiation mandate of Izetbe- govic, and brought the full Bosnian Presidency into the negotiation process - an institution which they couldn't have cared less about for the first eleven months of the Geneva negotiations. In a number of intensive meetings, the two mediators tried to convince Fikret Abdic to use one of the meetingsÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌä of the Presidency outside Sarajevo in June and July, in which Izetbegovic didn't par- ticipate, to topple the President and to take his position. This is confirmed by a close adviser to Abdic.

When Izetbegovic finally gave into the pressure and agreed to come to Geneva to participate in negotiations over the "union" to divide Bosnia Herzegovina into three republics, this plan was put to him as an ultimatum (27 July 1993). "The Muslims have the choice between accepting or dying", the mediators' spokesman John Mills remarked in one of his rare, honest moments. The pressure and dirty tricks Owen and Stoltenberg used to force Izetbegovic into finally giving up the unitary state of Bosnia Herzegovina and accepting the "union" division concept on 30 July were unheard of even by veterans among the observers of international negotiations. The same is true for the numerous attempts of the mediators and their wily spokesman to manipulate the media and to fool the world about what was really going on - both at the negotiation table in Geneva and at the same time on the ground in Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia Herzegovina.

Despite this conduct, the two mediators cannot be held more politically responsible for the Geneva process than their "employers": the EC and the UN Se- curity Council.

There is some truth to Owen's frequent argument that the international community never really backed up the two mediators. What Owen likes to forget, though, is the fact that he and Vance carry quite some responsibility for this reluctance on the part of the international community. At least in the first eight months of the negotiations, the mediators' reports to the EC Foreign Ministers and the UN Security Council were far too optimistic about "progress" at the negotiation table and about the positions and the conduct of the Serbian side. And in cru- cial moments (for example, during the meeting of all Foreign Ministers of the Yugoslavia Conference's Steering Committee, on 16 December 1992) Owen and Vance did everything they could to prevent military action or other forms of stronger involvement by the international community.

Especially in July and early August 1992, the US and the EC displayed a well-or- chestrated, two-faced strategy of public statements and posturing in support and sympathy for Izetbegovic and immense behind-clsed-doors pressure on the Bosnian President to capitulate at the Geneva negotiations. After Izetbegovic had fi- nally accepted the principle of a tripartite division, there wasn't even any support in the EC, Washington or Moscow to at least ensure that the share of Bosnia-Herzegovina for the future predominantly Muslim Republic of Bosnia would be equivalent to the 44 percent Muslim population.

Again, after consultations with the Serbs and Croats, Owen and Stoltenberg put another ultimatum on the table. They set the so-called "target figure" of 30 percent and proposed international supervised roads to link together the other- wise unconnected territories of the future Bosnian Republic and the Adriatic sea. The EC Foreign Ministers, as well as the UN Security Council, accepted this without even a debate. Given the total lack of international support, the Bosnian Government and Parliament had to scale down their demands to only three to four percent of territory in addition to the 30 percent foreseen in the original version of the Owen-Stoltenberg plan. They also asked for a 500 metre land-corridor to the Adriatic and a ten kilometre coastal strip that both would be Bosnian territory.

Given the Geneva process to date, I have grave doubts that the latest EC initia- tive is really meant to fulfil even these demands, espeically given the ambigu- ity concerning the easing of economic sanctions against Serbia.

Andreas Zumach is the Geneva correspondent of the German daily Die Tageszeitung.


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