The Muslim-led Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs signed a four-month cease-fire agreement Friday to take effect at noon local time today, but hesitations on both sides suggested the accord could easily unravel.
The cease-fire, negotiated during a visit to the Balkans by former President Jimmy Carter and finalized over the past two days by senior U.N. officials, is supposed to last until May 1. Its application was delayed for 24 hours and its scope reduced because of disagreements between the warring sides over the text.A spokesman for the U.N. military force in Bosnia, Michael Williams, said a draft 13-paragraph document had been reduced to six paragraphs as a result of various objections. "What you have now is basically a very straightforward cease-fire," he said.
The agreement, the most substantial for a long time in the 33-month-old war, said: "There shall be a general cease-fire along all the lines of confrontation which will take effect at 1200 hours on December 24, 1994. The general cease-fire shall be for an initial period of seven days and four months and shall be subject to renewal by agreement of the parties."
Any breaches of the accord are to be reported immediately to the U.N. Security Council.
The agreement was reached only after a day of negotiations between the top U.N. official in the former Yugoslavia, Yasushi Akashi, and the warring parties.
Disagreements centered on what link, if any, the cease-fire should have to political talks on resolving the conflict, and the issue of missing people. The question of the missing is particularly sensitive for the Bosnian Serbs, who rounded up tens of thousands of Muslim civilians early in the war, many of whom have never been seen or heard of again.
As it now stands, the cease-fire is similar to the more than 30 other truces that have quickly collapsed during the war. Negotiations are therefore to begin immediately in an attempt to transform the present cease-fire accord into a full cessation of hostilities.
The crucial difference is that, under a cessation of hostilities, front-line troops would pull back some distance to allow the interposition of U.N. troops.
This would do much to stop any renewal of the fighting, but it would also create the possibility for the Bosnian government that a situation might emerge in Bosnia like that in Cyprus, where the country has been partitioned between Turkish and Greek Cypriots along front lines frozen for the past 20 years.
The Bosnian government therefore wanted a reference to political talks, and specifically an international peace plan drawn up by the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia - the so-called contact group on the Balkans - included in the text.
The Bosnian government has already accepted this plan, which consists of a map obliging the Serbs to give up a third of the land they now hold and settle for occupying 49 percent of Bosnia. The rest of Bosnia would go to a Muslim-Croat federation. The Serbs have rejected the plan.
After meetings Friday with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Akashi had to drop any reference to the international peace plan from the cease-fire text because a dispute persists over the basis for opening talks on changing the plan.