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Crossroads in Bosnia

NATO's bombing raids against Bosnian Serb positions appear to have borne fruit. The Serbs have agreed to remove some heavy weapons from the 12.5-mile exclusion zone around Sarajevo. That city's airport and some land routes are reopened to relief supplies, which are now pouring into the besieged Bosnian capital.

As of this writing, the Serbs had pulled back about 70 of the 200 or more artillery pieces the UN wanted moved, and NATO airstrikes had not resumed. In western Bosnia, meanwhile, government and Bosnian Croat troops, supported by the Croatian Army, have recaptured at least 700 square miles of territory, although the Serbs may be making a strategic retreat. More than 60,000 Bosnian Serb refugees have poured into Serb-held territory to the east.

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It is heartening that some progress has been made toward ending the fighting in Bosnia. US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke deserves commendation for his shuttle diplomacy, but his success in large part was enabled by Croatian victory in the Krajina and the UN's tardy resolve to back up his diplomacy with NATO air power. Many lives might have been saved if the United Nations had taken this course sooner.

The plan to divide Bosnia into two zones, one government-controlled and one Serb-controlled, is unsatisfactory. But it's probably the best that can be done now, given the West's wariness of further military involvement. It is also dangerous. The history of ethnic partitions is not a happy one: Witness the 50-year conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, and between India and Pakistan. Sarajevo, all of which the government wants, and part of which the Serbs demand, threatens to become a second Jerusalem.

Whether the Serbs will continue to cooperate is not clear. But the Western powers must also rein in the government and Bosnian Croats, who are thirsty for a military victory after so many years of defeat. The potential for reciprocal atrocities against Serb civilians must be guarded against; some have already been reported.

Peace is still a long way off. For those trying to broker it, patience, firmness, and even-handedness are the needs of the hour.

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