Belgrade Tightens Noose On Defiant Bosnian Serbs
THE Zvornik bridge is one of five bridges crossing the Drina River that link Serbia to Bosnia. Until last week, it was the busiest - with a constant stream of trucks and cars. Now, almost nothing moves over it. Hundreds of trucks sit idle on both sides, blocked by Serb police.
The scene is designed to leave little doubt that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is serious about cutting all but humanitarian supplies to the Bosnian Serbs for rejecting the latest Balkan peace plan. It is in stark contrast to a similar blockade Mr. Milosevic announced 14 months ago and quickly lifted.
The state-controlled Serbian news media have also mounted a blanket, communist-style propaganda campaign against the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs. For the first time, the Bosnian Serbs are being denounced for their two-year siege and bombardment of Sarajevo.
Many of them are also accused of large-scale war profiteering. Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, is accused of having $30 million stashed away in a Geneva bank. At the same time, state-run Belgrade television and the state newspaper Politika are touting Milosevic as acting in the best interests of the Bosnian Serb people.
Politika, in a recent editorial, described the Bosnian Serb stand as a reckless gamble. ``Its outcome is clearly fatal for the people - but not for the [Bosnian Serb] leaders. Their positions are secure only and solely by the continued bloodletting, war, isolation, and misfortune.
``What we are particularly concerned about is that we are all as a people identified with a few criminals who use war for acquiring war booty. None of the leaders of the war... [found] it necessary to distance themselves from [acts of] crime against humanity,'' the editorial said.
Milosevic is trying to avoid a tightening of United Nations sanctions, which is being considered by the Security Council.
The new measures include a total land blockade of rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), nonrecognition of Yugoslav passports, and seizure of Yugoslav assets overseas. For the first time, the sanctions would hit the Serb elite hard.
Western analysts in Belgrade also speculate that Milosevic feels the time has come to consolidate his ``Greater Serbia'' and say he may be trying to unseat the Bosnian Serb leadership.
Milosevic power grab
A political takeover in Bosnia would be a major political gamble for Milosevic. Up to 1 million Bosnian Serb refugees live in Serbia and Montenegro, and all but one of the Serb opposition parties in Belgrade have sided with the Bosnian Serbs.
The Bosnian Serb ability to mount a sustained protest has also so far been limited - hampered in part by Belgrade, which has cut telephone links with the Bosnian-Serb-held parts of Bosnia, citing ``technical reasons.''
A straw poll taken among Bosnian Serb refugees in Belgrade indicated that they were still hoping there was a secret deal between Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic.
In Milosevic's favor is a growing but repressed resentment of the Bosnian Serbs in Serbia, who are seen as responsible for the crippling UN sanctions and whose refugees have become a heavy burden on the economy. Egged on by the official news media, hostility in Serbia is growing.
For the moment, the Bosnian Serb leadership is undeterred. Slavisa Rakovic, an adviser to Karadzic in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale, admitted the isolation is psychologically hard on them, but they are determined to press ahead. ``There is no defeatism here,'' he says.
The Bosnian Serbs claim they have reserves to fight a war indefinitely, though Western diplomats in Belgrade believe they can only hold out for up to four months.
The self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament is expected to meet later this week and declare a state of war as well as enacting measures such as rationing.
Bosnian Serb officials also say they will press ahead with a referendum at the end of the month on the contact-group peace plan, which would give 51 percent of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Mulsim-led government. Bosnian Serb forces now control roughly 70 percent of Bosnia.
The referendum will ask Bosnian Serbs if they are happy with the peace-plan map, but there will be no mention of provisions made by the contact group for adjusting that map.
Military wild card
One unknown in the division between the government and the Bosnian Serbs is the position of the respective military chiefs. Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic has been conspicuously silent during the past two weeks, though he has in the past been a hard-liner. He is known to be a good friend of the military commander of the Army of rump Yugoslavia, Gen. Momcilo Perisic.
Judging by past behavior, General Mladic could be preparing a major new offensive in Bosnia. But some Western diplomats are speculating a Perisic-Mladic alliance could move in to depose the Bosnian Serb leadership once Milosevic's propaganda campaign has set the stage.