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Once a Model of Unity, A Bosnian Town Is Split


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IN calmer days, the leaders of this half-Muslim, half-Croat town got together and signed an agreement declaring it a ``zone of peace.''

That was about two months ago, when the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina were still allies. Lt. Gen. Philippe Morillon was commander of UN forces in the former Yugoslav republic, and he said Fojnica should be an example to the rest of the country.

But today half the town lies in ruins, and the Croats have all fled. Fojnica's sorry state is instead a powerful example of the forces that have torn this country apart, and with the Geneva peace talks once again crumbling, of the difficulties involved in trying to quiet the guns by moving lines on a map.

The Geneva talks collapsed over disagreements on a proposal to partition Bosnia into three ethnic republics under a weak central government. The three sides could not agree on a proposed map, which the Bosnian government said gave too much territory to the Bosnian Serbs and rewarded their aggression.

With no viable plan on the table, the concern now is that fighting could intensify between the Croats and Muslims in central Bosnia, a fate that has already befallen Fojnica.

Cradled in a beautiful valley flanked by pine-clad mountains, the town's residents tried hard to withstand the divisiveness of ethnic war.

The Rev. Nikica Milicevic, guardian of Bosnia's oldest Franciscan monastery, which looms over the town, and Imam Ramiz Effendi Pasic of the Muslim community were of one mind. So too were the town's Croat and Muslim political leaders, and the local commanders of the Bosnian Croat army (known by the Serbo-Croatian acronym HVO) and the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army.

Communal trust among those groups survived the first 15 months of war only to be shattered in mid-July, when the upsurge in Muslim-Croat fighting in central Bosnia finally rolled into Fojnica.

Within two days, the mainly Muslim Bosnian Army had won control, and the Croats had fled. Many Croat homes were torched. The nearby furniture factories, from which both communities prospered, also went up in flames during the battle.

The local commander of the Bosnian Army, Nihad Kamenjas, blames the breakdown on the HVO, accusing it of using the ``zone of peace'' agreement to buy time while preparing to take over the area.

But United Nations observers who monitored the area at the time say the Bosnian forces took the initiative, launching a well-organized, long-planned attack to take control of what is an important strategic area.


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