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Loyal Serbs and Croats In Sarajevo See Woe In Partition of Bosnia


FOR the first time since January, Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic sat down with his Serbian and Croatian counterparts in Geneva this week to seek an end to 16 months of ethnic fighting. But the news was hardly comforting for residents of this besieged capital.

Unease is now acute among the estimated 80,000 Serbs and 31,000 Croats who still live in Sarajevo, the largest Muslim enclave left in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In breaking with their nationalist brethren, they placed their hope in building a multiethnic democracy.

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But many Serbs and Croats here say that dream is rapidly fading. It has been sapped by their abandonment by the world community and the increasing inability of those on whom their aspirations depend to control ethnic crimes against them - crimes of hatred that have become more and more commonplace as hunger and war grip the city.

"I want to know what I am still fighting for. Am I fighting for a state of law?" asks Aleksandar, a Serb in the Bosnian Army.

The government's perceived weakness is one of several factors threatening the 47-year-old bedrock of ethnic amity in Sarajevo, the strongest symbol of the communal harmony that extremist forces backed by Serbia and Croatia are trying to destroy.

The Muslim-dominated Bos-nian Army's dire position, the rigors of the ongoing siege, and the collapse of the Muslims' alliance with the Bosnian Croats have fueled uncertainty.

But of even greater significance are concerns among non-Muslims and a large number of Muslims that the international community is trying to force Mr. Izetbegovic to accept a Serb-Croat plan to divide Bosnia into three ethnic "ministates."

Should that happen, non-Muslims are terrified of being driven from Sarajevo to make room for waves of Muslims uprooted from areas awarded to the Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats.

"As a Croat, I would have to live in a Croat area," says Boris Krstanovic, the commander of the Sarajevo's First Scout Brigade. "I was born here and someone would come and tell me I can't live here any more."

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Many non-Muslims like Mr. Krstanovic who served in the Bosnian Army could face death or jail on arrival in their "ministate." Most Muslim, Serb, and Croat leaders in Sarajevo say partition will never be accepted. They still cling to the hope, no matter how remote, of winning a unified, multiethnic Bosnia. Matter of survival

Growing numbers of Muslims, convinced that military defeat is inevitable, see partition as a last hope for avoiding the annihilation of a community that has suffered the worst of the war, chiefly at the hands of Bosnian Serb nationalists. "After all their victims, it is not so strange that some Muslims believe their survival lies in a canton and they expect help from Islamic states," says Stjepan Kljuic, a popular Croat politician who was ousted from Bosnia's collective presidency last year.

"But no Muslim canton has a future and the Islamic world will give help to no one," he asserts. The cleric disagrees

"After 30,000 rapes, 800 mosques destroyed, hundreds of thousands of dead, 1 million displaced, and thousands sent to concentration camps, whose pain is stronger?" asks Mustafa Ceric, who three months go took over the influential post of Bosnia's chief Islamic cleric. "If division is the guarantee for the survival of the people we will have to accept that."

Mr. Ceric is establishing Sarajevo's first Islamic schools since the end of World War II, a development that is fueling concerns that Muslims are turning inward. Indeed, while Ceric praises the sacrifices of loyal Serbs and Croats, he says they would not be welcome in a Muslim ministate. "The problem is how can they be free in their political attitudes from the influence of Belgrade and Zagreb?" he asks. "I have a problem myself trusting any Serb."

Such attitudes and the idea of a Muslim sanctuary are taking root, Muslims and non-Muslims say, among the tens of thousands of Muslim peasants who survived Bosnian Serb brutalities and are nursing their hatreds as refugees in Sarajevo and other enclaves. `Village politics'

These peasants are despised within Sarajevo's multiethnic cosmopolitan population, which calls them papci, Serbo-Croatian for "savages," because they are susceptible to nationalism. Many have entered politics or the Army in search of affluence and power.

"What the papci are doing in Sarajevo is village politics," Aleksandar, the Serb soldier, asserts bitterly. "It is impossible to stay here." Referring to the fact that many senior Bosnian Serb and Croat leaders here are also transplanted peasants, he adds: "This is a war of villagers."

"The process of radicalization is going on," confirms a senior UN official. "We detected it three months ago when the medium-level [government bureaucracy] started being changed."

Muslims from the countryside release against non-Muslims the bitter hatreds fueled by their own brutal experiences. Two months ago, three Muslim refugees stopped Branislav, a Serb who served in the Bosnian Army.

"They put a gun in my mouth and said, `We will kill any Croat or Serb,' " he recounts. "I had a grenade and I said to myself, `four of us could go to heaven together.' But I didn't do it and they left me alone.

"I hope it is not too late for us," he adds.

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